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BY BERTRAND RUSSELL 

HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY 
THE PRINCIPLES OF MATHEMATICS 
Il^RODUCTION TO MATHEMATICAL PHILOSOPHY 
THE ANALYSIS OF MIND 
OUR KNOWLEDOE OF THE EXTERNAL WORLD 
AN OUTLINE OF PHILOSOPHY 
THE PHILOSOPHY OF LEIBNIZ 
AN INQlllRY INTO MEANING AND TRUTH 

POWER 

IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 
THE CONQUEST OF HAPPINESS 
SCEPTICAL ESSAYS 
THE SCIENTIFIC OUTIDOK 
MYSTICISM AND LOGIC 
MARRIAGE AND MORALS 
EDUCATION AND THE SOCIAL ORDER 
ON EDUCTION 

FREEDOM AND ORGANIZATION, 181^—1914 
PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTION 
ROADS TO FREEDOM 
JUSTICE IN WAR-TIME 

FREE THOUGHT AND OFFICIAL PROPAGANDA 
THE PROBLEM OF CHINA 

With Scott Nearing 

BOLSHEVISM AND THE WEST 

With Dora Russell 

THE PROSPECTS OF INDUSTRIAL CIVILIZATON 



BERTRAND RUSSELL 


IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

AND OTHER ESSAYS 


LONDON 

GEORGE ALLEN S’ UNWIN LTD 

MUSEUM STREET 




FIRST PUBLISHEO IN OCTOBER 191^ 


PRINTED IN lrIOEJ:.AND 
BY L VAN LEER & CO , AMSTERDAM 



PREFACE 


This book contains essays on such aspects of social 
questions as tend to be ignored in the clash of politics. 
It emphasizes the dangers of too much organization 
in the realm of thought and too much strenuousness 
in action. It explains why I cannot agree with either 
Communism or Fascism, and wherein I dissent from 
what both have in common. It maintains that the 
importance of knowledge consists not ofily in its- 
direct practical utility but also in the fact that it 
promotes a widely contemplative habit of mind; 
on this ground, utility is to be found in much of 
the knowledge that is nowadays labelled “useless.” 
There is a discussion of the connection of architec- 
ture with various social questions, more particularly 
the welfare of young children and the position ot 
women. 

Passing further away from politics, the volume, 
after discussing the charactenstics of Western civiliza- 
tion and the chances of the human race being 
vanquished by insects, concludes with a discussion 
of the nature of the soul. The general thesis which 
binds the essays together is that the world is suffering 
from intolerance and bigotry, and from the belief 
that vigorous action is admirable even when mis- 
guided ; whereas what is needed in our very complex 
modem society is calm consideration, with readiness 

5 



TN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

to call dogmas in question and freedom of mind to 
do justice to the most diverse points of view. 

Of the other essays in this volume, some are new, 
while others, which have been already published in 
magazines, are here reprinted by the kind permission 
of the editors. ‘‘In Praise of Idleness” and “The 
Modern Midas” appeared in Haiper^s Magazine) 
“The Ancestry of Fascism” (under a difTrrent title) 
appeared in The Political Quarterly in England and 
The Atlantic Monthly in America; “Scylla and 
Charybdis, or Communism and Fascism” appeared 
in The Modern Monthly) “Modern Homogeneity” in 
New York in The Outlook (now The New Outlook) ) 
“Education and Discipline” was published in The 
New Statesman and Nation I have also to acknowledge 
the assistance of Peter Spence in suggesting and 
discussing many of the subjects. 


6 



CONTENTS 


CHAPTER PACE 

I. IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 9 

II. “USELESS” KNOWLEiXiE 30 

III. ARCHITECTURE AxNl) SOCIAL QUES- 

TIONS 47 

IV. THE MODERN MIDAS 62 

V. THE ANCESl’RY Ol' FASCISM f?2 

VI. SCVLLA AND Ci J \ 1 <'. .il'HS, OR COM- 
MUNISM AND FASC] 5 j 1 vI 109 

VIE THE CASE FOR SCjCIALlSM 1.^1 

VIII. WESTERN CIVlLIZ\TIOx\ 157 

IX. ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 176 

X. MODERN H 0 M 0 (;ENEITY 188 

XL MEN VERSUS INSLCIS 199 

XIL EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE 202 

XIII. STOICISM AND MEKF^L II 1 ':ALTH 21 i 

XIV. ON COMETS 223 

XV. WHAT IS THE SOUL? 226 


7 




IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


I 

IN PRAISE or IDLENESS^ 

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on 
the saying : “Satan finds some mischief still for idle 
hands to do.” Being a highly virtuous child, I 
believed all that I was told, and acquired a con- 
science which has kept me working hard down to 
the present moment. But although my conscience 
has controlled my actions^ my opinions have under- 
gone a revolution. I think that there is far too much 
work done in the world, that immense harm is 
caused by the belief that w^ork is virtuous, and that 
what needs to be preached in modern industrial 
countries is quite aifferent from what always has 
been preached. Everyone knows the story of the 
traveller in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying 
in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and 
offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them 
jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. 
This traveller was on the right lines. But in countries 
which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness 
is more difficult, and a great public propaganda 
will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after 


9 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

reading the following pages, the leaders of the 
Y.M.c.A. will start a campaign to induce good young 
men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived 
in vain. 

Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, 
I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. When- 
ever a person who already has enough to live on 
proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, 
such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told 
thjit such conduct takes the bread out of other 
people’s mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this 
argument were valid, it would only be necessary 
for us all to be idle in order that we should all have 
our mouths full of bread. What people who say such 
things forget is that what a man earns he usually 
spends, and in spending he gives employment. As 
long as a man spends his income, he puts just as 
much bread into people’s mouths in spending as 
he takes out of other people’s mouths in earning. 
The real villain, from this point of view, is the man 
who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, 
like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that 
they do not give employment. If he invests his 
savings, the matter is less obvious, and different 
cases arise. 

One of the commonest things to do with savings 
is to lend them to some Government. In view of the 
fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most 
civilized Governments consists in payment for past 


10 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

wars or preparation for future wars, the man who 
lends his money to a Government is in the same 
position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire 
murderers. The net result of the man’s economical 
habits is to increase the armed forces of the State 
to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would 
be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it 
in drink or gambling. 

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different 
when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. 
When such entei prises succeed, and produce some- 
thing useful, this may be conceded. In these days, 
however, no one will deny that most enterprises 
fail. That means that a large amount of human 
labour, whi( h might have been devoted to producing 
something that could be enjoyed, was expended on 
producing machines which, when produced, lay 
idle and did no good to anyone. The man who 
invests his savings iii a concern that goes bankrupt 
is therefore injuring others as well as him'^clf If 
he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his 
friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, 
and so w^ould all those upon whom he spent money, 
such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. 
But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down 
rails for surface cars in some place where surface 
cars turn out to be not wanted, he has diverted a 
mass of labour into channels where it gives pleasure 
to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor 

1 1 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

through the failure of his investment he will be 
regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, 
whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his 
money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool 
and a frivolous person. 

All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all 
seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done 
in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness 
of WORK, and that the road to happiness and pros- 
perity lies in an organized diminution of work. 

First of all : what is work? Work is of two kinds : 
first, altering the position of matter at or near the 
earth’s surface relatively to other such matter ; 
second, telling other people to do so. The first kind 
is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant 
and highly paid. The second kind is capable of 
indefinite extension: there are not only those who 
give orders, but those who give advice as to what 
orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds 
of advice are given simultaneously by two organized 
bodies of men; this is called politics. The skill 
required for this kind of work is not knowledge of 
the subjects as to which advice is given, but know- 
ledge of the art of persuasive speaking and writing, 
i.e. of advertising. 

Throughout Europe, though not in America, 
there is a third class of men, more respected than 
eithei of the classes of workers. There aic men who, 
through ownership of land, are able to make others 


12 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and 
to work. These landowners are idle, and I might 
therefore be expected to praise them. Unf rtunately, 
their idleness is only rendered possible by the in- 
dustry of others ; indeed their desire for comfortable 
idleness is histoiically the source of the whole gospel 
of work. The last thing they have ever wished is 
that others should lollow their example. 

From the beginning of civilization until the Indus- 
trial Revolution, a man could, as a rule, pi oduce by 
hard work little moie than was rcquiied'^for the 
subsistence of himself and his family, although his 
wife worked at least as hard as he did, and his 
children added theii labour as soon as they were 
old enough to do so. The small surplus a 1 bo\ c bare 
necessaries was not left to those who produced it, 
but was appropriated by wairiors and priests. In 
times of famine there was no surplus ; the warriors 
and priests, howeVi», still secured as much as at 
other times, with the result that many of the workers 
died of hunger. This system j ersisted in Russia until 
1917,^ and still persists in the East; in England, in 
spite of the Industrial Revolution, it remained in 
full force throughout the Napoleonic wars, and until 
a hundred years ago, when the new class of manu- 
facturers acquired power. In Ameiica, the system 
came to an end with the Revolution, except in the 

^ Since then, members of the Communist Party have suc- 
ceeded to this privilege of the w amors and priests. 

«3 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

South, where it persisUd until the Civil War. A 
system which lasted so long and ended so recently 
has naturally left a profound impress upon men’s 
thoughts and opinions. Much that we take for 
granted about the desirability of work is derived 
from this system, and, being pre-industrial, is not 
adapted to the modern world. Modern technique 
has made it possible for leisure, within limits, to be 
not the prerogative of small privileged classes, but 
a right evenly distributed throughout the com- 
munity. The morality of work is the morality of 
slaves, and the modern world has no need of slaveiy. 

It is obvious that, in primitive communities, 
peasants, left to themselves, would not have parted 
with the slender surplus upon which the warriors 
and priests subsisted, but would have either pro- 
duced less or consumed more. At first, sheer force 
compelled them to produce and part with the sur- 
plus. Gradually, however, it was found possible to 
induce many of them to accept an ethic according 
to which it was their duty to work hard, although 
part of their work went to support others in idleness. 
By this means the amount of compulsion required 
was lessened, and the expenses of government were 
diminished. To this day, 99 per cent of British 
wage-earners would be genuinely shocked if it 
were proposed that the King should not have a 
larger income than a working man. The conception 
of duty, speaking historically, has been a means 

*4 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

used by the holders of power to induce others to 
live for the interests of their masters rather than 
for their own. Of course the holders of power con- 
ceal this fact from themselves by manaping to believe 
that their interests are identical with the larger 
interests of humanity. Sometimes this is true ; 
Athenian slave-owners, for instance, employed part 
of their leisure in making a permanent contribution 
to civilization which would have been impossible 
under a just economic system. Leisure is essential 
to civilization, and in former times leisure for the 
few was only rendered possible by the labours of 
the many. But their labours were valuable, not 
because work is good, but because leisure is good. 
And with modern technique it would be possible 
to distribute leisure justly without injury to civili- 
zation. 

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish 
enormously the amc of labour required to secure 
the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made 
obvious during the war. At that time, all the men 
in the armed forces, all the men and women engaged 
in the production of munitions, all the men and 
women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or 
Government offices connected with the war, were 
withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of 
this, the general level of physic al well-being among 
unskilled w’'age-earners on the side of the Allies was 
higher than before or since. The significance of this 


*5 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

fact was concealed by finance* borrowing made it 
appear as if the future was nourishing the present. 
But that, of course, would have been impossible; 
a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet 
exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the 
scientific organization of production, it is possible 
to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a 
small part of the working capacity of the modern 
world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organi- 
zation, which had been created in order to liberate 
men for fighting and munition work, had been 
preserved, and the hours of work had been cut 
down to four, all would have been well. Instead of 
that the old chaos was restored, those whose work 
was demanded were made to work long hours, and 
the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? 
because work is a duty, and a man should not 
receive wages in proportion to what he has pro- 
duced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified 
by his industry. 

This is the morality of the Slave State, applied 
in circumstances totally unlike those in which it 
arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. 
Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given 
moment, a certain number of people are engaged 
in the manufacture of pins. They make as many 
pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours 
a day. Someone makes an invention by which the 
same number of men can make twice as many pins 

i6 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


as before. But the World does not need twice as 
many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly 
any more will be bought at a lower price. In a 
sensible world, everybody concerned in the manu- 
facture of pins would take to working four hours 
instead of eight, and everything else would go on 
as before. But in the actual world this would be 
thought demoralizing. The men still work eight 
hours, there are too many pins, some employers 
go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned 
in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, 
in the end, just as much leisure as on the other 
plan, but half the men are totally idle while half 
are still ovcrwoikc'd. In this way, it is insured that 
the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round 
instead of being a universal source of happiness. 
Can anything more insane be imagined? 

The idea that the poor should have leisure has 
always been shocking to the rich. In England, in 
the early nineteenth century, fifteen hours was the 
ordinary da) ’s work for a man ; children sometimes 
did as much, and very commonly did twelve hours 
a day. When meddlesome busybodies suggested that 
perhaps these hours were rather long, they were 
told that work kept adults from drink and children 
from mischief. When I was a child, shortly after 
urban working men had acquired the vote, certain 
public holidays were established by law, to the great 
indignation of the upper classes. I remember hearing 

B 17 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

an old Duchess say : “What do the poor want with 
holidays? They ought to work''' People nowadays 
are less frank, but the sentiment persists, and is the 
source of much of our economic confusion. 

Let us, for a moment, consider the ethics of work 
frankly, without superstition. Every human being, 
of necessity, consumes, in the course of his life, a 
certain amount of the produce of human labour. 
Assuming, as we may, that labour is on the whole 
disagreeable, it is unjust that a man should consume 
more than he produces. Of course he may provide 
services rather than commodities, like a medical 
man, for example; but he should provide something 
in return for his board and lodging. To this extent, 
the duty of work must be admitted, but to this 
extent only. 

I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern 
societies outside the u.s.s.r., many people escape 
even this minimum of work, namely all those who 
inherit money and all those who marry money. I 
do not think the fact that these people arc allowed 
to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that 
wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve. 

If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a 
day, there would be enough for everybody, and no 
unemployment — assuming a certain very moderate 
amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks 
the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the 
poor would not know how to use so much leisure. 

i8 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

In America, men often work long hours even when 
they are already well off; such men, naturally, are 
indignant at the idea of leisure for wage-earners, 
except as the grim punishment of unemployment; 
in fact, they dislike leisure even for their sons. 
Oddly enough, while they wish their sons to work 
so hard as to have no time to be civilized, they do 
not mind their wives and daughters having no work 
at all. The snobbish admiration of uselessness, which, 
in an aristocratic society, extends to both sexes, is, 
under a plutocracy, confined to women; this, how- 
ever, docs not make it any more in agreement with 
common sense. 

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is 
a product of civilization and education. A man who 
has woikcd long hours all his life will be bored if 
he becomes suddenly idle. But without a consider- 
able amount of leisure a man is cut off from many 
of the best things, 'there is no longer any reason 
why the bulk of the population should suffer this 
deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually 
vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in 
excessive quantities now that the need no longer 
exists. 

In the new creed which controls the government 
of Russia, while there is much that is very different 
from the traditional teaching of the West, there are 
some things that are quite unchanged. The attitude 
of the governing classes, and especially of those who 


*9 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

conduct educational propaganda, on the subject of 
the dignity of labour, is almost exactly that which 
the governing classes of the world have always 
preached to what were called the “honest poor.” 
Industry, sobriety, willingness to work long hours 
for distant advantages, even submissiveness to 
authority, all these reappear; moreover authority 
still represents the will of the Ruler of the Universe, 
Who, however, is now called by a new name, 
Dialectical Materialism. 

The victory of the proletariat in Russia has some 
points in common with the victory of the feminists 
in some other countries. For ages, men had con- 
ceded the superior saintliness of women, and had 
consoled women for their inferiority by maintaining 
that saintliness is more desirable than power. At 
last the feminists decided that they would have both, 
since the pioneers among them believed all that 
the men had told them about the desirability of 
virtue, but not what they had told them about the 
worthlessness of political power. A similar thing has 
happened in Russia as regards manual work. For 
ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in 
praise of “honest toil,” have praised the simple lifc, 
have professed a religion which teaches that the 
poor arc much more likely to go to heaven than 
the rich, and in general have tried to make manual 
workers believe that there is some special nobility 
about altering the posilion of matter in space, just 


20 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

as men tried to make women believe that they 
derived some special nobility from their sexual 
enslavement. In Russia, all this teaching about the 
excellence of manual work has been taken seriously, 
with the result that the manual worker is more 
honoured than anyone else. What are, in essence, 
revivalist appeals are made, but not for the old 
purposes : they are made to secure shock workers 
lor special tasks. Manual work is the ideal which is 
held before the young, and is the basis of all ethical 
teaching. 

For the present, possibly, this is all to the good. 
A large country, full of natural icsouiccs, awaits 
development, and has to be developed with very 
little use of credit. In these circumstances, hard 
work is necessary, and is likely to bring a great 
reward. But what will happen when the point has 
been reached where everybody could be comfort- 
able without working long hours? 

In the West, wc have various ways of dealing 
with this problem. We have n 3 attempt at economic 
justice, so that a large proportion of the total pro- 
duce goes to a small minority of the population, 
many of whom do no work at all. Owing to the 
absence of any central control over production, we 
produce hosts of things that are not wanted We 
keep a large percentage of the working population 
idle, because we can dispense with their labour by 
making the others overwork. When all these methods 


21 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

prove inadequate, we have a war : we cause a 
number of people to manufacture high explosives, 
and a number of others to explode them, as if wc 
were children who had just discovered fireworks. 
By a combination of all these devices we manage, 
though with difficulty, to keep alive the notion that 
a great deal of severe manual work must be the lot 
of the average man. 

In Russia, owing to more econujnic iustice and 
central control over })roduction, the problem will 
have to be difftrenliy solvTd. Ihc rational solution 
would be, as soon as the necessaries and elemental y 
comioits can be provided lor all, to reduce the 
houis of labour gradually, allowing a popular vote to 
decide, at each stage, whether moie leisure or moie 
goods weie to be preferred. But, having taught the 
supreme virtue of hard woik, it is difficult to see 
how the authorities can aim at a paradise in which 
there will be much leisure and little woik. It seems 
more likely that they will find continually fresh 
schemes, by wdihh picsent leisure is to be saciificcd 
to future productivity. I read recently of an ingenious 
plan put forward by Russian engineers, for making 
the White Sea and the northern coasts of Siberia 
warm, by putting a dam across the Kara Sea. An 
admirable pKjjcct, but liable to postpone proletarian 
comfort lor a generation, while the nobility of toil 
is being displayed amid the ice-ficlds and snow- 
storms of the Aiciic Ocean. This sort of thing, if it 


22 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

happens, will be the result of regarding the virtue 
ol hard work as an end in itself, rather than as a 
means to a state of affairs in which it is no longer 
needed. 

The fact is that moving matter about, while a 
certain amount of it is necessary to our existence, 
is emphatically not one of the ends of human life. 
If it were, we should have to consider every navvy 
superior to Shakespeare. We have been misled in 
this matter by two causes. One is the necessity of 
keeping the poor contented, which has led the rich, 
for thousands of year^, to preach the dignity of 
labour, while taking care themselves to remain 
undignified in this respect. The other is the new 
pleasure in mechanism, which makes us delight in 
the astonishingly clever changes that we can pro- 
duce on the earth’s surface. Neither of these motives 
makes any great appeal to the actual woiker. If 
you ask him what he thinks the best part of his life, 
he is not likely to say : ‘T enjoy manual work because 
it makes me feel that I am i ilfilling man’s noblest 
task, and because I like to think how much man ean 
transform his planet. It is true that my body demands 
periods of rest, which I have to fill in as best I may, 
but I am never bO happy as when the morning 
comes and I can return to the toil from which my 
contentment springs.” I have never heard working 
men say this sort of thing. They consider work, as 
it should be considered, a necessary means to a 


23 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

livelihood, and it is from their leisure hours that 
they derive whatever happiness they may enjoy. 

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, 
men would not know how to fill their days if they 
had only four hours of work out of the twenty- 
four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, 
it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would 
not have been true at any earlier period. There 
was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and 
play which haS been to some extent inhibited by 
the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that 
everything ought to be done for the sake of some- 
thing else, and never for its own sake. Serious- 
minded persons, for example, arc continually con- 
demning the habit of going to the cinema, and 
telling us that it leads the young into crime. But 
all the work that goes to producing a cinema is 
respectable, because it is work, and because it brings 
a money profit. The notion that the desirable 
activities are those that bring a profit has made 
everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides 
you with meat and the baker who provides you 
with bread are praiseworthy, because they are 
making money ; but when you enjoy the food they 
have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you 
eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly 
speaking, it is held that getting money is good and 
spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two 
sides of one transaction, this is absurd ; one might 


24 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes 
are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the pro- 
duction of goods must be entirely derivative from 
the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. 
The individual, in our society, works for profit; 
but the social purpose of his work lies in the con- 
sumption of what he produces. It is this divorce 
between the individual and the social purpose of 
production that makes it so difficult for men to 
think clearly in a world in which profit-n\iking is 
the incentive to industry. We think too much of 
production, and too little of consumption. One 
result is that we attach too little importance to 
enjQyment and simple happiness, and that we do 
not judge production by the pleasure that it gives 
to the consumer. 

When I suggest that working hours should be 
reduced to four, I am not meaning to imply that 
all the remaining time should necessarily be spent 
in pure frivolity. I mean that four hours’ work a 
day should entitle a man lo the necessities and 
elementary comforts of life, and that the rest of his 
time should be his to use as he might see fit It is 
an essential part of any such social system that 
education should be carried further than it usually 
is at present, and should aim, in part, at providing 
tastes which would enable a man to use leisure 
intelligently. I am not thinking mainly of the sort 
of things that would be considered “highbrow.” 


25 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

Peasant dances have died out except in remote rural 
areas, but the impulses which caused them to be 
cultivated must still exist in human nature. The 
pleasures of urban populations have become mainly 
passive: secinj^ cinemas, walching football matches, 
listening to the radio, and so on. This results from 
the fact that their active energies are fully taken 
up with work ; if they liad more leisure, they would 
again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active 
part. 

In the past, there was a small leisure class and a 
larger working class. The leisure class enjoyed advan- 
tages for vdiich there was nr) basis in social juslir'c; 
tliis necessarily made it oppressive, limited its sym- 
pathies, and caused it to invent theories by which 
to justify its privileges. These facts greatly diminished 
its excellence, but in spite of this drawback it c on- 
tributed nearly the whole of what we call civih\'ation. 
It cultivated the arts and discovered the sciences; 
it wrote the books, invented the philosophies, and 
refined social relations. Even the liberation of the 
oppressed has usually been inaugurated from above. 
Without the leisure class, mankind would never have 
emerged from barbarism. 

The method of a hereditary leisure class without 
duties was, however, extraordinarily wasteful. None 
of the members of the class had been taught to be 
industrious, and the class as a whole was not excep- 
tionally intelligent. The class might produce one 

26 



IN PRAISE OP IDLENESS 

Darwin, but against him had to be set tens of 
thousands of country gentlemen who never thought 
of anything more intelligent than fox-hunting and 
punishing poachers. At present, the universities aie 
supposed to piovide, in a more systematic way, 
what the leisure ( lass provid».d accidentally and as 
a by-product. This is a great improvement, but it 
has ceitain drawbacks. University life is so diflercnt 
from life in the world at laige that men wiio live 
in an academic milieu lend to be unaware of the 
preoccupations and problems of oi dinary men and 
women; moreover the r wjys *)f (vpressmg them- 
selves are usually such as to rob their opinions of 
the influenc c that thcN ought to have upon tlie 
general public. Ano 1 ci di'»advantagc is tiiat in 
universities studies arc organized, and the man who 
thinks of some on^ nal line ol resean h is likely 
to be discouraged. Academic institutions, therefore, 
useful as they aie, re not adequate guardians of 
the interests of civili/ation in a world where e\ery- 
one outside their walls is toe busy for unutilitarian 
pursuits. 

In a world where no one is compelled to woik 
more than four hours a day, e\ery person possessed 
of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and 
every painter will be able to paini without starving, 
however excellent his pictures vn^y be. Young writers 
will not be obliged to draw attentK^n to themsches 
by sensational pot-boilers, witha view to acc^ulniig 

27 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

the economic independence needed for monumental 
works, for which, when the time at last comes, they 
will have lost the taste and the capacity. Men who, 
in their professional work, have become interested 
in some phase of economics or government, will be 
able to develop their ideas without the academic 
detachment that makes the work of university 
economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical 
men will have time to learn about the progress of 
medicine, teachers will not be exaspcratedly strug- 
gling to teach by routine methods things which they 
learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, 
have been proved to be untrue. 

Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, 
instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. 
The work exacted will be enough to make leisure 
delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. 
Since men will not be tired in their spare time, they 
will not demand only such amusements as are passive 
and vapid. At least i per cent will probably devote 
the time not spent in professional work to pursuits 
of some public importance, and, since they will not 
depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their 
originality will be unhampered, and there will be 
no need to conform to the standards set by elderly 
pundits. But it is not only in these exceptional cases 
that the advantages of leisure will appear. Ordinary 
men and women, having the opportunity of a happy 
life, will become more kindly and less persecuting 

28 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


and less inclined to view others with suspicion. The 
taste for war will die out, partly for this reason, 
and partly because it will involve long and severe 
work for all. Good nature is, of all moral qualities, 
the one that the world needs most, and good nature 
is the result of case and security, not of a life of 
arduous struggle. Modern methods of production 
have given u'' the possibility of ease and security 
for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork 
for some and starvation for the others. HitlvTto we 
have conlimied to be as energetic as we were before 
there were machines; in this we have been foolish, 
but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever. 


ag 



II 


“USELESS” KNOWLEDGE 

Francis Bacon, a man who rose to eminence by 
betraying his friends, asserted, no doubt as one of 
the ripe lessons of experience, that “knowledge is 
power.” But this is not true of all knowledge. Sir 
Thomas Browne wished to know what song the 
sirens sang, but if he had ascertained this it would 
not have enabled him to rise from being a magis- 
trate to being High Sheriff of his county. The sort 
of knowledge that Bacon had in mind was that 
which we call scientific. In emphasizing the im- 
portance of science, he was belatedly carrying on 
the tradition of the Arabs and the early ^^liddlc Ages, 
according to which knowledge consisted mainly of 
astrology, alchemy, and pharmacology, all of which 
were branches of science. A learned man was one 
who, having mastered these studies, had acquired 
magical powers. In the early eleventh century, 
Pope Silvester ii, for no reason except that he read 
books, was universally believed to be a magician 
in league with the devil. Prospero, who in Shake- 
speare’s time was a mere phantasy, represented 
what had been for centuries the generally received 
conception of a learned man, so far at least as his 
powers of sorcery were concerned. Bacon Relieved 

30 



“USELESS** KNOWLEDGE 


— rightly, as we now know — that science could 
provide a more powerful magician’s wand than any 
that had been dreamed of by the necromancers of 
former ages. 

The renaissance, whicli was at its height in Eng- 
land at the time of Bacon, involved a revolt against 
the utilitarian conception of knowledge. The Greeks 
had acquired a familiarity with Homer, as ue do 
with music-hall songj», because they enjoyed him, 
and without iecling that they were engaged in the 
pursuit of learning. But the men of the sixteenth 
century could not begin to understand him wuhout 
first absorbing a very considerable amount of 
linguistic erudition. They admixed the Greeks, and 
did not wish to be shut out from their pleasures ; 
they therefore copied them, both in reading the 
classics and in other less avowable ways. Learning, 
in the renaissance, was part of the joze de vivre, just 
as much as drinking or love-making. And this was 
true not only of literature, but also of sterner studies. 
Everyone knows the story ol Hobbes’s first contact 
with Euclid: opening the book, by cliance, at the 
theorem of Pythagoras, he exclaimed, “By God, 
this is impossible,” and proceeded to read the 
proofs backwards until, reaching the axioms, he 
became convinced. No one can doubt th^t this was 
for him a voluptuous momtiig unsullied by the 
thought of the utility of geometry in measuring 
fields. 

31 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

It is true that the renaissance found a practical 
use for the ancient languages in connection with 
theology. One of the earliest results of the new 
feeling for classical Latin was the discrediting of the 
forged decretals and the donation of Constantine. 
The inaccuracies which were discovered in the 
Vulgate and the Sepluagint made Greek and 
Hebiew a necessary part of the controversial equip- 
ment of Protestant divines. The republican maxims 
of Greece and Rome were invoked to justify the 
resistance of Puritans to the Stuarts and of Jesuits 
to monarchs who had thrown off allegiance to the 
Pope. But all this was an effect, rather than a cause, 
of the revival of classical learning, which had been 
in full swing in Italy for nearly a century before 
Luther. The meiin motive of the renaissance was 
mental delight, the restoration of a certain richness 
and freedom in art and speculation which had been 
lost while ignorance and superstition kept the mind’s 
eye in blinkers. 

The Greeks, it was found, had devoted a part of 
their attention to matters not purely literary or 
artistic, such as philosophy, geometry, and astronomy. 
These studies, therefore, were respectable, but other 
sciences were more open to question. Medicine, it 
was true, was dignified by the names of Hippocrates 
and Galen; but in the intervening period it had 
become almost confined to Arabs and Jews, and 
inextricably intertwined with magic. Hence the 


32 



•-USELESS*’ KNOWLEDGE 


dubious reputation of such men as Paracelsus. 
Chemistry was in even worse odour, and hardly 
became respectable until the eighteenth century. 

In this way it w^as brought about that knowledge 
of Greek and Latin, with a smattering of geometry 
and perhaps d'^tronomy, came to be considered the 
intellectual equipment of a gentleman. The Greeks 
disdained the practical applications of geometry, 
and it w^as only in their decadence that they found 
a use for astronomy in the guise of astrology. The 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in the ""main, 
studied mathematics with Hellenic disinterestedness, 
and tended to ignore the sciences which had been 
degraded by their connection with sorcery. A gradual 
change towards a wider and more practical con- 
ception of knowledge, which was going on through- 
out the eighteenth century, w^as suddenly accelerated 
at the end of that period by the French Revolution 
and the growth of n^ cliiiiery, of which the former 
gave a blow to gentlemanly culture while the latter 
offered new’ and astonishing '^ope for the exercise 
of ungentlemanly skill. Throughout the last hundred 
and fifty years, men have questioned more and more 
vigorously the value of “useless” knowledge, and 
have come increasingly to believe that the only 
knowledge worth ha\ing is that which is applicable 
to some part of the economic li' (»f the community. 

In countries such as France and England, which 
have a traditional educational system, the utilitarian 

c 33 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

view of knowledge has only partially prevailed. 
There are still, for example, professors of Chinese 
in the universities who read the Chinese classics 
but are unacquainted with the works of Sun Yat- 
sen, which created modern China. There are still 
men who know ancient history in so far as it was 
related by authors whose style was pure, that is to 
say up to Alexander in Greece and Nero in Rome, 
but refuse to know the much more important later 
history because of the literary infcrioiity of the 
historians who related it. Even in France and 
England, however, the old tradition is dying, and 
in more up-to-date countries, such as Russia and the 
United States, it is utterly extinct. In America, for 
example, educational commissions point out that 
fifteen hiuidred words are all that most people 
employ in business correspondence, and therefore 
suggest that all others should be avoided in the 
school curriculum. Basic English, a British invention, 
goes still further, and reduces the necessary voca- 
bulary to eight hundred words. The conception of 
speech as something capable of aesthetic value is 
dying out, and it is coming to be thought that the 
sole purpose of words is to convey practical infor- 
mation. In Russia the pursuit of practical aims is 
even more whole-hearted than in America : all that 
is taught in educational institutions is intended to 
serve some obvious purpose in education or govern- 
ment. The only escape is afforded by theology : the 


34 



‘^USELESS’* KNOWLEDGE 

sacred scriptures must be studied by some in the 
oric:inal German, and a few professor’^ must learn 
philosophy in order to defend dialectical materialism 
against the criticisms of bourgeois metaphysicians. 
But as orthodoxy becomes more firmly established, 
even this tiny loophole will be closed. 

Knowledge, everywhere, is coming to be regarded 
not as a good in itself, or as a means of c reating a 
broad and humane outlook on life in general, but 
as merely an ingredient in technical skill. T^his is 
part of the greater integration of society which ha'? 
been brought about by scientific technique and 
military necessity. There is more economic and 
political in tei dependence than there was in former 
times, and therefore there is more social pressure to 
compel a man to live in a way that his neighbours 
think useful. Educational establishments, except 
those for the very rich, or (in England) such as 
have become invulnci able through antiquity, are 
not allowed to spend their money as they like, but 
must satisfy the State that the are serving a useful 
purpose by imparling skill and instilling loyalty. 
This is part and parcel of the same movement 
which has led to compulsory military service, boy 
scouts, the organization of political pa^-ties, and the 
dissemination of political passion by the Press. We 
are all moie aware of our felL v -citizens than we 
used to be, more anxious, if we are virtuous, to do 
them good, and in any case to make them do us 


35 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

good. We do not like to think of stnyonc lazily 
enjoying life, however refined may be the quality 
of his enjoyment. We fed that everybody ought to 
be doing something to help on the great cause 
(whatever it may be), the more so as so many bad 
men are working against it and ought to be stopped. 
We have not leisure of mind, therefore, to acquire 
any knowledge except such as will help us in the 
fight for whatever it may happen to be that we think 
important. 

There is much to be said for the nariowly 
utilitarian view of education. There is not time to 
learn everything before beginning to make a living, 
and undoubtedly ‘‘useful” knowledge' is very useful. 
It has made the modern world. Without it, we should 
not have machines or motor-cars or railways or 
aeroplanes; it should be added that we should not 
have modern advertising or modern propaganda. 
Modern knowledge has brought about an immense 
improvement in average health, and at the same 
time has discovered how to exterminate large cities 
by poison gas. Whatever is distinctive of our world, 
as compared with former times, has its source in 
“useful” knowledge. No community as yet has 
enough of it, and undoubtedly education must 
continue to promote it. 

It must also be admitted that a great deal of the 
traditional cultural education was foolish. Boys 
spent many years acquiring Latin and Greek 

S6 



‘•USELESS*’ KNOWLEDGE 

grammar, without being, at the end, cither capable 
or desirous (except in a small percentage of cases) 
of reading a Greek or Latin author. Modern lan- 
guages and history arc preferable, from every point 
of view, to Latin and Greek. They arc not only 
more useful, but they give much more culture in 
much less time. For an Italian of the fifteenth 
century, since pi actically everything worth reading, 
if not in his own language, was in Greek or Latin, 
these languages were the indispensable k^ys to 
culture. But since that time great literatures have 
grown uj) in various modern languages, and the 
development of civilization has been so rapid that 
knowledge of antiquity has become much less useful 
in understanding our problems than knowledge of 
modern nations and their comparatively recent 
history. The traditional schoolmaster’s point of 
view, which was admirable at the time of the revival 
of learning, became gradually unduly narrow, since 
it ignored what the world has done since the fifteenth 
centuiy. And not only history and modern lan- 
guages, but scientc also, when properly taught, 
contributes to culture. It is therefore possible to 
maintain that education should have other aims 
than direct utility, without defending the traditional 
curriculum. Utility and culture, when both arc 
conceived broadly, are found to be less incompatible 
than they appear to the fanatical advocates of either. 

Apart, however, from the cases in which culture 

37 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


and direct utility can be combined, there is indirect 
utility, of various diffcp^nt kinds, in the possession 
of knowledge which does not contribute to technical 
efhcicncy. I think some of the worst features of the 
modern world could be improved by a greater 
encouragement of such knowledge and a less ruthless 
pursuit of mere professional competence. 

When conscious activity is wholly concentrated on 
some one definite purpose, the ultimate result, for 
most people', is lack of balance accompanied l^y 
some form of nervous disorder. I’hc men who diiected 
German policy during the war made mistakes, for 
example, as regards the submarine campaign which 
brought America on to the side of the Allies, which 
any peison coming ficsh to the subject could have 
seen to be unwise, but which they could not judge 
sanely owing to mental concentration and lack of 
holidays. The same sort of thing may be seen where- 
ever bodies of men attempt tasks which put a pro- 
longed strain upon spontaneous impulses. Japanese 
impel ialists, Russian Communists, and German 
Nazis all have a kind of tense fanaticism which 
conics of living too exclusively in the mental world 
of certain tasks to be accomplished. When the tasks 
are as important and as feasible as the fanatics 
suppose, the result may be magnificent; but in 
most cases narrowness of outlook has caused oblivion 
of some powerful counteracting force, or has made 
all such forces seem the work of the devil, to be met 
38 



‘•USELESS*’ KNOWLEDGE 

by punishment and terror. Men as well as children 
have need of play, that is to say, of periods of 
activity having no purpose beyond present enjoy- 
ment. But if play is to serve its purpose, it must be 
possible to find pleasure and interest in matters not 
connected with work. 

Ihc amusements of modern urban populations 
tend more and more to be passive and collective, 
and to consist of inactive obseivation of the skilled 
actixities of others. Undoubtedly such amusqnients 
arc much better than none, but they arc not 
as good as would be those of a population which 
had, through education, a wider range ol intelligent 
interests not connected with work Better economic 
organization, allowing mankind to benefit by the 
productivity of machines, should lead to a very 
great increase of Icisuie, and much leisure is apt 
to be tedious except to those who have consider- 
able intelligent activities and interests. If a leisured 
population is to be happy, it must be an educated 
population, and must be educated with a view to 
mental enjoyment as well as to the direct usefulness 
of technical knowledge. 

The cultuial element in the acquisition of know- 
ledge, when it is successfully assimilated, forms the 
character of a man’s thought! and desires, making 
them conccin themselves, in part at least, with large 
impersonal objects, not only with matters of imme- 
diate importance to himself. It has been too readily 


39 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

assumed that, when a man has acquired certain 
capacities by means of knowledge, hc' will use them 
in ways that are socially beneficial. The narrowly 
utilitarian conception of education ignores the 
necessity of training a man’s purposes as well as his 
skill. There is in untrained human nature a very 
considerable element of cruelty, which shows itself 
in many ways, great and small. Boys at school tend 
to be unkind to a new boy, or to one whose clothes 
are not quite conventional. Many women (and not 
a few men) inflict as much pain as they can by means 
of malicious gossip. The Spaniards enjoy bull-fights ; 
the British enjoy hunting and shoojing. The same 
cruel impuL’jCs take more serious forms in the 
hunting of Jews in Germany and kulaks in Russia. 
All imperialism affords scope for them, and in war 
they become sanctified as the highest form of 
public duty. 

Now while it must be admitted that highly edu- 
cated people are sometimes cruel, I think there 
can be no doubt that they arc less often so than 
people whose minds have lain fallow. The bully 
in a school is seldom a boy whose proficiency in 
learning is up to the avciage. When a lynching 
takes place, the ringleaders arc almost invariably 
very ignorant men. This is not because mental 
cultivation produces positive humanitarian feelings, 
though it may do so; it is rather because it gives 
other interests than the ill-treatment of neighbours, 



••USELESS*' KNOWLEDGE 


and other sources of self-respect than the assertion 
of domination. The two things most universally 
desired are power and admiration. Ignorant men 
can, as a rule, only achieve either by brutal means, 
involving the acquisition of physical mastery. Cul- 
ture gives a man less harmful forms of power and 
more deserving ways of making himself admired. 
Galileo did moie than any monarch has done to 
change the world, and his power immeasurably 
exceeded that of his persecutors. He had therefore 
no need to aim at beccaning a pr iN(Xutor in his turn. 

Perhaps the most important advantage of “useless” 
knowledge is that it j^romotes a contemplative habit 
of mind. There is in the world much too much 
readiness, not only for action without adequate 
previous reflection, but also for some sort of action 
on occasions on which wisdom would counsel 
inaction. People show their bias on this matter in 
various curious ways. Mcphistopheles tells the 
young student that theory is grey but the tree of 
life is green, and everyone quotes this as if it were 
Goethe’s opinion, instead of what he supposes the 
devil would be likely to say to an undergraduate. 
Hamlet is held up as an awful warning against 
thought without action, but no one holds up 
Othello as a warning against action without thought. 
Prof(‘s.>ors such as Bergson, from a kind of snobbery 
towards the practical man, decry philosophy, and 
say that life at its best should resemble a cavalry 


41 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

charge. For my part, 1 tliink action is best when it 
i 1 iges from a profound apprehension of the 
universe and human destiny, not from some wildly 
passionate impulse of romantic but disproportioned 
self-assertion. A habit of finding pleasure in thought 
rather than in action is a safeguard against un- 
wisdom and excessive love of power, a means of 
pn serving serenity in misfortune and peace of mind 
among worries. A life confined to what is personal 
is likely, sooner or later, to become unbearably 
painful ; it is only by windows into a larger and less 
fretful cosmos that the more tragic parts of life 
become endurable. 

A contemplative habit of mind has advantages 
ranging irom the most trivial to the most profound. 
To begin with minor vexations, such as fleas, missing 
trains, or cantankerous business associates. Such 
troubles seem hardly worthy to be met by reflections 
on the excellence of heroism or the transitorincss of 
all human ills, and yet the irritation to which they 
give rise destroys many people’s good temper and 
enjoyment of life. On such occasions, there is much 
consolation to be found in out-of-the-way bits of 
knowledge which have some real or fancied con- 
nection with the trouble of the moment; or even 
if they have none, they serve to obliterate the 
present from one’s thoughts. When assailed by 
people who are white with fury, it is pleasant to 
remember the chapter in Descartes’ Treatise on the 


42 



“USELESS” KNOWLEDGE 

Passions entitled “Why those who grow pale with 
rage arc more to be feared than those who grow 
red.” When one feels impatient over the difficulty 
of securing international co-operation, one’s im- 
patience is diminished if one happens to think of 
the sainted King Louis ix, before embarking on 
his ciusddc, allying himself with the Old Man of 
the Mountain, who appears in ihc Arabian Nights 
as the dark source of half the wickedness in the 
world. When the rapacity of capitalists grows 
op])ressive, one may be suddenly consoled by the 
recollection that Brutus, that exemplar of republican 
virtue, lent money to a city at 40 per cent, and 
hired a private army to besiege it when it failed to 
pay the inteiest. 

Curious learning not only makes unpleasant 
things less unpleasant, but also makes pleasant 
things more j^leasant, I have enjoyed peaches and 
apiicots moic since* I have known that they were 
fust cultivated in China in the early days of the 
Han dynasty; that Chinese hostages held by the 
great King Kaniska introduced them into India, 
whence they spread to Persia, reaching the Roman 
Empire in the first ccntuiy of our era; that the 
word “apiicot” is derived from the same Latin 
source as the word “precocious,” because the 
apiicot ripens early; and that the A at the beginning 
was added by mistake, owing to a false etymology. 
All this makes the fruit taste much sweeter. 


43 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

About a hujidred years ago, a number of well- 
meaning philanthropists started societies “for the 
diffusion of useful knowledge,” with the result that 
people have ceased to appreciate the delicious 
savour of “useless” knowledge. Opening Burton’s 
Anatomy of Melancholy at haphazard on a day when 
I was threatened by that mood, I learnt that there 
is a “melancholy matter,” but that, while some 
think it may be engendered of all four humours, 
“Galen holds that it may be engendered of three 
alone, excluding phlegm or piluita, whose true 
assertion Valerius and Mcnardus stiffly maintain, 
and so doth Fuscius, Montaltus, Montanus. How 
(say they) can white become black?” In spite of 
this unan^^w^rable argument, Hercules de Saxonia 
and Cardan, Guianerius and Lauren tius, are (so 
Burton tells us) of the opposite opinion. Soothed 
by these historical reflections, my melancholy, 
whether due to three humours or to four, was 
dissipated. As a cure for too much zeal, I can 
imagine few measures more effective than a course of 
such ancient controversies. 

But while the trivial pleasures of culture have 
their place as a relief from the trivial worries of 
practical life, the more important merits of contem- 
plation arc in relation to the greater evils of life, 
death and pain and cruelty, and the blind march 
of nations into unnecessary disaster. For those to 
whom dogmatic religion can no longer bring com- 


44 



‘•USELESS*’ KNOWLEDGE 

fort, there is need of some substitute, if life is not to 
become dusty and harsh and filled with trivial self- 
assertion. The world at present is full of angry self- 
centred groups, each incapable of viewing human 
life as a whole, each willing to destroy civili/ation 
rather than yield an inch. To this nanowness no 
amount of technical instruction will provide an 
anudote. The antidote, in so far as it is manor of 
individual psychology, is to be found in h'story, 
biology, astronomy, and all those studies v^hich, 
without destroying '^cU-respect, enable the individual 
to see himself in his proper perspective. What is 
needed is not tliis oi that specifu piece of informa- 
tion, but such knowledge as iiis[jiies a com option 
of the ends of human 1j1< a^^ a whole : art ana history, 
acquaintance with the lives of heioic individuals, 
and some understanding of the strangely accidental 
and ephemeral position of man in the cosmos — all 
this touched with an emotion of pride in what is 
distinctively human, the power to see and to know', 
to feel magnanimously and 'o think with under- 
standing. It is from large \ ereeptions combined 
with impersonal emotion that wisdom most readily 
springs. 

Life, at all times full of pain, is more painful in 
our time than in the two ceiituric.s thji preceded it. 
The attempt to escape from \ am drives men to 
triviality, to self-deception, to the invention of vast 
collt Clive luylhs. But these momentary alleviations 


45 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

do but increase the sources of suffering in the long 
run. Both private and public misfortune can only 
be mastered by a proccs in which will and intelli- 
gence interact : the part of will is to refuse to shirk 
the evil or accept an unreal solution, while the 
part of intelligence is to understand it, to find a 
cure if it is curable, and, if not, to make it bearable 
by seeing it in its relations, accepting it as unavoid- 
able, and remembering what lies outside it in other 
regions, other ages, and the abysses of interstellar 
space. 


46 



Ill 


ARCHITECTURE AND SOCIAL 
QUESTIONS 

Architecture, from the cailiest times, has had 
two purpo'scs on the one hand, the purely utili- 
tarian one of affording warmth and shelter; on 
the other, the political one of impressing an idea 
upon mankind by means of the splendour'' of its 
expression in stone. The former purpose sufficed 
as regards the dwellings of the poor ; but tlie temples 
of gods and the p«ilaccs of kings were designed to 
inspire awe for the heavenly powers and for their 
earthly favouiitcs. In a few cas^s, it was not indi- 
vidual monarc hs but communities that were glori- 
fied ; the Acropolis at Athens and the Capitol in 
Rome showed forth he imperial majesty of those 
proud cities for the edification of subjects and allies. 
Aesthetic merit was considered desirable in public 
buildings, and, later on, in th. palaces of plutocrats 
and emperors, but was not aimed at in the hovels of 
peasants or the rickety tenements of the urban 
proletariat. 

In the mediaeval world, in spite of a greater 
complexity in the social struv.ture, the artistic 
motive in architecture was similarly restricted, 
indeed even more so, foi the castles of the great 

47 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

were designed for military strength, and if they 
had beauty it was by accident. It was not feudalism, 
but the Church and coinmerce that gave rise to 
the best building in the Middle Ages. The cathedrals 
displayed the glory of God and His bishops. The 
wool trade between England and the Low Coun- 
tries, which knew the Kings of England and the 
Dukes of Burgundy to be its hirelings, embodied its 
pride in the splendid cloth halls and municipal 
buildings of Flanders, and, less magnificently, in 
many English market-places. But it was Italy, 
the birthplace of modern plutocracy, that brought 
commercial architecture to pcrfecticjn. Venice, the 
bride of the sea, the city that diverted crusades and 
overawed the united monarchs of Christendom, 
created a new type of stately beauty in the Doge’s 
palace and in those of the merchant princes. Unlike 
the rustic barons of the North, the urban magnates 
of Venice and Genoa had no need of solitude and 
defence, but lived side by side, and created cities 
in which everything visible to the not-too-inquisi- 
tivc stranger was splendid and aesthetically satisfy- 
ing. In Venice, especially, the concealment of squalor 
was easy: the slums were hidden away in back 
alleys, and were never seen by the uscis of gondolas. 
Never since has plutocracy achieved so complete 
and perfect a success. 

The Church, in the Middle Ages, built not only 
cathedrals, but also buildings of another sort, more 

48 



ARCHITECTURE AND ECONOMICS 


relevant to our modern needs : abbeys, monasteries, 
nunneries, and colleges. These were based upon a 
restricted form of Communism, and designed for 
peaceful social life. In these buildings, everything 
individual was Spartan and simple, everything 
communal was splendid and spacious. The humility 
of the single monk was satisfied with a hard bare 
cell; the pride of the order was displayed in the 
large magnificenc e of halls and c hapcls and refec- 
tories. In England, monasteries and abbeys survive 
mainly as ruins to please tourists, but colleges, at 
Oxford and Cambridge, are still part of the 
national life, and retain the beauty of mediaeval 
communalism. 

With the spread of the renaissance into the North, 
the uncouth barons of France and England set to 
work to ac quire the polish of the Italian rich. While 
the Medici marrried their daughters to kings, 
poets, painters, and architects north of the Alps 
copied Florentine models, and aristocrats replaced 
their castles by country house s, which, by their 
defencelessness against assault, marked the new 
security of a courtly and civilized nobility. But the 
security was destroyed by the French Revolution, 
and since that time the traditional styles of archi- 
tecture have lost their vitality They linger where 
the oldci forms of power linger, as in Napoleon’s 
additions to the Louvre; but these additions have 
a flcjrid vulgarity which shows his insecurity. He 


D 


49 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

seems to be trying to forget his mother’s constant 
remark in bad French: “Pourvou que cela 
doure.” 

There are two typical forms of architecture in 
the nineteenth century, due respectively to machine 
production and democratic individualism: on the 
one hand the factory with its chimneys, on the other 
the rows of tiny houses for working-class families. 
While the factory represents the economic organiza- 
tion brought about by industrialism, the little houses 
represent the social separateness which is the ideal 
of an individualistic population. Where high ground- 
rents make large buildings desirable, they have a 
merely architectural, not a social, unity: they arc 
blocks of offices, apartment houses, or hotels, whose 
occupants do not form a comnDunity like the monks 
in a monastery, but endeavour, as far as possible, 
to remain unaware of each other’s existenc e. 
Wherever, in England, the value of the land is not 
too great, the principle of one house for each 
family reasserts itself. As one approaches London 
or any large northern town by rail, one passes 
endless streets of such small dwellings, where each 
house is a centre of individual life, the communal 
life being represented by the office, the factory, or 
the mine, according to the locality. Social life 
outside the family, so far as architecture can secure 
such a result, is exclusively economic, and all non- 
economic social needs must be satisfied within the 

50 



ARCHITECTURE AND ECONOMICS 

family or remain thwarted. If the social ideals of 
an age are to be juc'pcd by the aesthetic quality of 
its architecture, the last hundred years represent the 
lowest point yet reached by humanity. 

The factory and the rows of small houses, between 
them, illustrate a curious inconsistency in modern 
life. While production has become increasingly a 
matter in which large groups are concerned, our 
general outlook, in everything that we regard as 
outside the sphere of politics and economics, has 
tended to become more and more individualistic. 
This is true not only in matters of art and culture, 
where the cult of self-expression has led to an 
anarchic revolt against every kind of tradition and 
convention, but also — perhaps as a reaction against 
overcrowding — in the daily lives of ordinary men, 
and still more of ordinary women. In the factory, 
perforce, there is soc ini life, which has produced 
the trade unions; but at home each family desires 
isolation. “I keep myself to myself,” women say; 
and their husbands like to thi« k of them sitting at 
home waiting for the return uf the master of the 
house. These feelings make wives endure, and even 
prefer, the separate little house, the separate little 
kitchen, the separate drudgery at housework, and 
the separate care of children while rhey are not 
at school. The work is hard, the life monotonous, 
and the woman almost a prisoner in her own house; 
yet all this, though it frays her nerves, she prefers 


5 * 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

to a more communal way of life, because separateness 
ministers to her self-respect. 

The preference for this type of architecture is 
connected with the status of women. In spite of 
feminism and the vote, the position of wives, at any 
rate in the wage-earning class, is not much changed 
from what it was. The wife still depends upon her 
husband’s earnings, and does not receive wages 
although she works hard. Being professionally 
a housekeeper, she likes to have a house to keep. 
The desire to have scope for personal initiative, 
which is common to most human beings, has for 
her no outlet except in the home. The husband, on 
his side, enjoys the feeling that his wife works for 
him and is economically dependent upon him ; 
moreover his wife and his house provide more 
satisfaction for his instinct of property than would 
be possible with any different type of architecture. 
From conjugal possessiveness, both husband and 
wife, if at any time they feel a wish for a more 
so( ial life, are nevertheless each glad that the other 
has so few occasions to meet possibly dangerous 
members of the opposite sex. And so, though their 
lives may be cramped and the woman’s unnecessarily 
laborious, neither desires a different organization of 
their social existence. 

All this would be changed if it were the rule, and 
not the exception, for married women to earn their 
living by work outside the home. In the professional 


52 



ARCHITECTURE AND ECONOMICS 

class there are already enough wives earning money 
by independent work to produce, in big towns, some 
approach to what their circumstances make desir- 
able. What such women need is a service flat or a 
communal kitchen to relieve them of the care of 
meals, and a nursery school to take charge of the 
childien during oflicc hours. Conventionally, a 
married woman is supposed to regret the necessity 
of working away from home, and if, at the end of 
her day, she has to do the jobs ordinarily dove by 
wives who have no other occupation, she is likely 
to be senoiish overworked But given the right t)pe 
of architectuie, women could be relieved of most of 
the work of housekeepiiig and minding children, 
with advantage to themselves, their husbands, and 
their children, and in that case the substitution of 
proit ssional work for the traditional duties of wives 
and mothers would be a clear gain. Every husband 
of an old-fashioned wile would be convinced of this 
if, for a week, he were to attempt taking over his 
wife’s duties. 

The work of a wage-earner’s wife has never been 
modernized because it is unpaid, but in fact much 
of it is unnecessary, and the rest should, for the 
most part, be divided among diflerciii specialists. 
But if this is to be done, the first reform required 
is an architectural reform. The problem is to secure 
the same communal advantages as were secured in 
mediaeval monasteries, but without celibacy; that 

53 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

is to say, there must be provision for the needs of 
children. 

Let us first consider what are the unnecessary 
disadvantages of the present system in which ea».h 
working-class household is self-contained, whether 
in the form of a separate house or of rooms in a 
block of tenements. 

The gravest evils fall upon the children. Before 
they are of school age, they have lar too little sun 
and air; their diet is that provided by a mother 
who is poor, ignorant, and busy, and unable to 
provide one sort of meal for adults and another for 
the young; they are constantly getting in the way 
while their mother cooks and does her work, with 
the result that they get on her nerves and receive 
harsh treatment, perhaps alternating with caresses; 
they never have liberty or space or an environment 
in which their natural activities arc innocuous. 
This combination of circumstances tends to make 
them rickety, neurotic, and subdued. 

The evils for the mother are also very serious. She 
has to combine the duties of nurse, cook, and house- 
maid, for none of which she has been trained ; almost 
inevitably she performs them all badly ; she is always 
tired, and finds her children a bother instead of a 
source of happiness; her husband is at leisure when 
his work stops, but she never has leisure; in the 
end, almost inevitably, she becomes irritable, 
narrow-minded, and full of envy. 


54 



ARCHITECTURE AND ECONOMICS 


For chc man the disadvantages are less, since he 
is less in the home. But when he is at home he is 
not likely to enjoy his wife’s querulousness or the 
“bad” behaviour of the children ; probably he blames 
his wife when he ought to blame the architecture, 
with unpleasant consequences which vary with the 
degree of his brutality. 

I do not say, of course, that all this happens 
universally, but I do say that, when it docs not, 
there has to be an exceptional amount of self- 
discipline, wisdom, and physical vigour in the 
mother. And obviously a system which demands 
exceptional qualiti> s of human beings will only be 
successful in exceptional cases. The badness of such 
a system is not disproved by the existence of rare 
instances in which its evils do not appear. 

To cure all these troubles simultaneously, it is 
only necessary to introduce a communal element 
into architecture. Tix separate little houses, and 
the blocks of tenements each with its own kitchen, 
should be pulled down. In thi t place there should 
be high blocks of buildings round a central quad- 
rangle, the south side being left low to admit the 
sunshine. There should be a common kitchen, a 
spacious dining-hall, and another hall for amuse- 
ments and meetings and the cinema. In the central 
quadrangle there should be a nursery school, con- 
structed in such a way that the children could not 
easily do harm either to themselves or to fragile 


55 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

objects: there should be no steps, no open fires oi 
hot stoves exposed to the touch, plates and cups 
and saucers should be made of unbreakable material, 
and generally there should be the utmost possible 
avoidance of those things that make it necessary to 
say “don’t” to children. In good weather, the 
nursery school should be in the open air; in bad 
weather, except the very worst, in rooms open to 
the air at one side. All the children’s meals should 
be in the nursery school, which could, quite cheaply, 
provide them with a more wholesome diet than 
their mothers can give them. From the time they are 
weaned until they go to school, they should spend 
all the time from breakfast till after their last ineal 
at the nursery school, where they should have 
opportunities of amusing themselves, but the v(Ty 
minimum of supervision compatible with their 
safety. 

The gain to the children would be enormous. 
Their health would benefit by air and sun and 
space and good food ; their character would benefit 
by freedom and by escape from the atmosphere 
of constant querulous prohibition in which most 
wage-earners spend their first years. Liberty of 
movement, which can only be safely allowed to a 
young child in a specially constructed environment, 
could be almost unchecked in the nursery school, 
with the result that adventurousness and muscular 
skill would develop naturally as they do in young 
56 



ARCHITECTURE AND ECONOMICS 


animals. The constant prohibition of movement 
in young children is a source of discontent and 
timidity in later life, but is largely unavoidable so 
long as they live in an adult environment; the 
nursery school, therefore, would be as beneficial to 
their character as to their health. 

For women the advantages would be quite as 
great. As soon as their children were weaned, they 
would hand them over, throughout the day, to 
women specially trained in the care of young 
children. They would not have the business of buying 
food, cooking it, and washing up. They would go 
out to work in the mornings and come home in the 
evenings, like their husbands; like tlicir husbands, 
they would have hours of work and hours of leisure, 
instead of being always busy. They would see their 
children in the morning and evening, long enough 
for affection, but not long enough for frayed nerves. 
Mothers who are wdux their children all day long 
hardly ever have enough superfluous energy to 
play with them; as a rule, fii hers play wdth their 
children much more than mothers do. Even the 
most affectionate adult is bound to find children 
trying if there is never a moment’s rest from their 
clamorous demands for attention. But at the end 
of a day spent apart, both mother and children 
would feel more affectionate tjjan is possible when 
they are cooped up together all day. The children, 
physically tired but mentally at peace, would enjo) 

57 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

their mother’s attentions after the impartiality of 
the women at the nursery school. What is good in 
family life would survive, without what is worrying 
and destructive of affection. 

For men and women equally there would be an 
escape from the confinement of small rooms and 
sordidness into large public rooms, which might be 
as architecturally splendid as College Halls. Beauty 
and space need no longer be the prerogative of the 
rich. There would be an end to the irritation that 
comes of being cooped up at close quarters, and 
that too often makes family life impossible. 

And all this would be the consequence of an 
architectural reform. 

Robert Owen, more than a hundred years ago, 
incurred much ridicule for his “co-operative 
])arallelograms,” which were an attempt to secure 
for wage-earners the advantages of collegiate life. 
Although the suggestion was premature in those 
days of grinding poverty, many parts of it have now 
come much nearer to what is practicable and 
desirable. He himself, at New Lanark, was able 
to establish a nursery school on very enlightened 
principles. But he was misled by the special cir- 
cumstances of New Lanark into regarding his 
“parallelograms” as productive units, not merely as 
places of residence. The tendency of industrialism 
has been, from the first, to lay too much stress on 
production, and too little on consumption and 

58 



ARCHITECTURE AND ECONOMICS 


ordinary living ; this has been a result of emphasis 
on profits, which arc associated oiil) with production. 
The result is that the factory has Luoiiie scieiuifir, 
and has carried division of labour to the larthest 
possible point, while the home has remained un- 
scientific, and still heaps the most diverse laboius 
upon the head of the over-burdened mother. It is 
a natural result of the domination of the profit- 
making motive that the most haphazard, un- 
organized, and altogether unsatisfactory part- 
ments of human activity are tiio^e from w^hich no 
pecuniary profit is to be expected. 

It must be adn itted, however, that the most 
powerful obstacles to such an architectunJ ridbiui 
as I have been suggesting aie to be iound m the 
psychology of the wage-earners themselves. iJowever 
they may quarrel, people like the privacy of the 
“home,’’ and find in it a satisfaciion to pride and 
posscssivencss. A cehoate communal life, such as 
that of monasteries, did not raise the same pioblem ; 
it is marriage and the fami); that introduce the 
instinct of privacy, I do not think pri\dte cooking, 
beyond what could be done occasionally on a 
gas-ring, is really necessary to satisfy this instinct; 
I believe that a private apartment wdth one’s own 
furniture w^ould suffice for people who were used to 
it. But it is always difficult io change intimate 
habits. The desire of women for independence, 
however, may lead gradually more and more to 


59 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

women earning Ihcii living outside the home, and 
this, in turn, may make such a system as we have 
been considering seem to them desirable. At present, 
feminism is still at an early stage of development 
among women of the wage-earning elass, but it is 
likely to increase unless there is a Fascist reaction. 
Perhaps in time this motive may lead women to 
prefer communal cooking and the nursery school. 
It will not be from men that a desire for the change 
will come. Wage-earning men, even when they are 
Socialists or Communists, seldom sec any need for 
an alteration in the status of their wives. 

While unemployment remains a grave evil, and 
while failure to understand economic principles 
remains almost univci sal, the employment of married 
women is naturally objected to as likely to throw 
out of work those whose jobs the married women 
secure. For this reason, the problems of married 
women are bound up with the problem of unem- 
ployment, which is probably insoluble without a 
very considerable degree of Socialism. In any case, 
however, the construction of “co-operative parallelo- 
grams” such as I have been advocating could only 
come, on a large scale, as part of a large Socialistic 
movement, since the profit motive alone could never 
bring it about. I’he health and character of children, 
and the nerves of wives, must therefore continue 
to suffer so long as the desire for profit regulates 
economic activities. Some things can be achieved 

6o 



ARCHITECIURE AND ECONOMICS 

by this motive, and some cannot ; among those that 
cannot is the well-being of wives and children in 
the wage-earning class, and — what may seem even 
more Utopian — giving beauty to suburbs. But 
although we take the hideousness of suburbs for 
granted, like March winds and November fogs, it 
has not, in fact, the same inevitability. If they 
were constructed by municipal instead of private 
entci prise, with planned streets, and houses like 
the Courts of Colleges, there is no reason why they 
should not be a delight to the eye. Ilideousricss, as 
much as worry and poverty, is part of the pi ice wc 
pay lor our slavery to the motive ot private profit. 


6i 



IV 


THE MODERN MIDAS^ 

The story of King Midas and ihe Golden Touch is 
familiar to all who were brought up on Hawthorne’s 
Tanqlewood Tales. This worthy king, being abnor- 
mally fond of gold, was granted by a god the privilege 
that everything he touched turned to gold. At first 
he was delighted, but when he found that the food 
he wished to eat became solid metal before he could 
s^vallow it, he began to feel worried; and when 
his daughter became p< trifled as he kissed her, he was 
aghast, and begged the god to take his gift away 
again. From this moment he realized that gold is 
not the only thing of value. 

This is a simple story, but its moral is one that 
the world finds very In^rd to learn. When the 
Spaniards, in the sixteenth century, acquired the 
gold of Peru, they thought it desirable to retain it 
in their own hands, and they put all sorts of obstacles 
in the way of the export of the precious metals. 
The consequence was that the gold merely raised 
prices throughout the Spanish dominions, without 
making Spain any richer than before in actual 
goods. It might be a satisfaction to a man’s pride 
to feel that he had twice as much money as before, 
^ WriUeij in 1932. 


69 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

but if each doubloon only purchased half what it 
used to purchase, the gain was purely metaphysical, 
and did not enable him to have more food and 
drink or a better house or any other tangible 
advantage. The English and Dutch, being less 
powerful than the Spaniards, were obliged to content 
themselves with what is now the Eastern United 
States, a region that was despised because it 
contained no gold. But as a source of wealth this 
region has proved immeasurably more produc- 
tive than the gold-producing parts of the'" New 
World which all njliojis coveted in the time of 
Elizabeth. 

Although, as a matter of histoiy, this has become a 
commonplace, its application to present-day prob- 
lems seems to be beyond the mental capacity of 
Governments. Ihe subject of economics has jalways 
been viewed in a topsy-turvy way, and this is more 
true now than at any ^ revlous time. What happened 
at the end of the wai, in this respect, is so absurd 
that it is difficult to believe ‘ lat the Governments 
were composed of grown-up men not in lunatic 
asylums. They wanted to punish Germany, and 
the time-honoured way of doing this was to impose 
an indemmty. So they imposed an indemnity. So 
far, so good. But the amount that they wished 
Germany to pay was enormia ly greater than all 
the gold in Germany, or even in the world. It was 
therefore mathematically impossil)Ie for the Germans 

63 



IN PRAISE 01‘ IDLENESS 

to pay except in goods : the Germans had to pay in 
goods or not at all. 

At this point the Governments suddenly remem- 
bered that they had the habit of measuring a 
nation’s prosperity by the excess of exports over 
imports. When a country exports more than it 
imports, it is said to have a favourable balance of 
trade; in the contrary case, the balance is said to 
be unfavourable. But by imposing upon Germany 
an indemnity greater than could be paid in gold, 
they had decreed that in trade with the Allies 
Germany was to have a favourable balance of 
trade and the Allies were to have an unfavourable 
balance. To their horror, they found that they had 
unintentionally been doing Germany what they 
considered a benefit by stimulating her export trade. 
To this general argument, others more specific 
were added. Germany produces nothing that cannot 
be produced by the Allies, and the threat of Ger- 
man competition was everywhere resented. The 
English did not want Geiman coal when their own 
coal-mining industry was depressed. The French did 
not want German iron and steel manufactures when 
they were engaged in increasing their own iron and 
steel production by the help of the newly acquired 
Lorraine ore. And so on. The Allies, therefore, 
while remaining determined to punish Gcimany by 
making her pay, were equally determined not to let 
her make the payment in any particular form. 

64 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

To this lunatic situation a lunatic solution was 
found. It was decided to lend Germany whatever 
Germany had to pay. The Allies said in ellcct : “We 
cannot let you off the indemnity, because it is a 
just punishment for your wickedness; on the other 
hand, we cannot let you pay it, because that would 
ruin our industries; so we will lend you the money 
and you shall pay us back what we lend. In that 
way, the principle will be safeguarded without harm 
to ourselves. As for the harm to you, we hope that 
that is only ])Oslponed.” 

Btu this solution, ob\iously, could only be tem- 
poral y. The subscribcTs to German loans wanted 
their interest, and there was the same dilemma 
about paying the interest as thcie had been about 
poyip7 the indemnity. The Germans could not pay 
the interest in gold, and the Allied nations did not 
wish them to pay in goods. So it btcame necessary 
to lend them the nuiiey to pay the interest. It is 
obvious that, sooner or later, people were bound 
to get tired of this game. When people are tired 
of lending to a country without getting any return, 
the country’s credit is said to be no longer good. 
When this happens, people begin to demand the 
actual payment of what is due to them. But, as we 
have seen, this was impossible for the Germans. 
Hence many bankruptcies, first in Germany, then 
among those to whom bankrupt Germans owed 
money, then among those to w^hom those people owed 

E 65 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

money, and so on. Result, universal depression, 
misery, starvation, ruin, and the whole train of 
disasters from which tLr world has been suffering. 

I do not mean to suggest that German indemni- 
ties were the sole cause of our troubles. The debts 
of the Allies to America contributed, and so, in a 
lesser degree, did all debts, private or pul)lic, where 
debtor and creditor were separated by a high tariff 
wall, so that payment in goods was difficult. The 
German indemnity, while by no means the whole 
source of the trouble, is, however, one olThc clearest 
instances of the confusion of thought w^hicli has made 
llie trouble so difficult to deal wiili. 

The confusion of thought from \diich our mis- 
fortunes have arisen is the confusion between the 
standpoint of the consumer and that of the pro- 
ducer-, or, more correctly, of the producer under a 
competitive system. When the indemnities WTre 
imposed, the Allies regarded themsehes as con- 
sumers : they considered that it would be pleasant 
to have the Germans work for them as temporary 
slaves, and to be able themselves to consume, 
without labour, what the Germans had produced. 
Then, after the Treaty of Versailles had been con- 
cluded, they suddenly remembered that they were 
also producers, and that the influx of German 
goods which they had been demanding would ruin 
their industries. They were so puzzled that they 
started scratching their heads, but that did no good, 
66 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

even when they all did it together and called it an 
International Conference. The plain fact is that 
the governing classes of the world are too ignorant 
and stupid to be able to think thior.gh such a 
problem, and too conceited to ask advice of those 
who might help them. 

To simplify oar problem, let us suppose that one 
of the Allied nations consisted of a single indiv' dual, 
a Robinson Crusoe living on a desert island. The 
Germans would be obliged, under the Treaty of 
Versailles, to oiler him all the ncc(‘ssarics of life 
for nothing. But if he behaved as the Powers have 
behaved, he would say: “No, do not bring me coal, 
because it will ruin my wood-gathering industry; 
do not bring me bread, because it will ruin my 
agriculture and my ingenious though primitive 
milling apparatus; do not bring me ( lothcs, because 
I have an infant industry of making clothes out of 
the skins of beasts. I ao not mind il you bring me 
gold, because that can do me no harm; I will put 
it in a cave, and make no use of it whatever. But 
on no account will I accept payment in any form 
that I could make use of.” If our imaginary Robinson 
Crusoe said this, wc should think that solitude had 
deprived him of his wits. Yet that is exactly what 
all the leading nations have said to Germany. When 
a nation, iii'-tead of an individual, is seized with 
lunacy, it is thought to be dis:pla>ing remarkable 
industrial wisdom. 


67 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

The only relevant difference between Robinson 
Crusoe and a whole nation is that Robinson Crusoe 
orc^anizcs his time sensibly and a nation does not. 
If an individual gets his clothes for nothing, he docs 
not spend his time making clothes. But nations 
think that they ought to produce everything that 
they need, except \\herc there is some natural 
obstacle such as climate. If nations had sense, they 
would arrange, by international agreement, which 
nation was to produce wdiat, and would no n^ore 
attempt to produce everything than individuals do. 
No individual tries to make his own c lothes, his 
cwn shoes, his own food, his own house, and so 
on; he knows quite well that, if he did, he would 
have to be content with a very low level ol comfort. 
But nations do not yet understand the j)rinciple 
of division of labour. If they did, they could have 
let Germany pay in certain classes of goods, which 
they would have ceased to make themselves. The 
men who would have been thrown out of work 
could have been taught another trade at the public 
expense. But this would have required organization 
of production, which is contrary to business 
orthodoxy. 

Superstitions about gold arc curiously deep- 
seated, not only^ in those who profit by them, but 
even in those to whom they bring misfortune. In 
the autumn of 1901, when the French forced the 
English to abandon the gold standard, they imagined 

68 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

that they were doing the English an injury, and the 
English, for the most part, agreed with them. A 
sort of shame, a feeling as of national humiliation, 
swept over England. Yet all the best cronomists 
had been urging abandonment of the gold standard, 
and subsequent experience has pro\cd that they 
were right. So ignorant are the men in practical 
control of banking that the British Goveinmrnt 
had to be compelled by force to do what was best 
for British intciests, and that only French un- 
friendliness led France to corilci this unintended 
bcnefjt upon England. 

Of all reputedly useful occupations, about the 
most absurd is gold-mining. Gold is dug out of 
the earth in South Altica, and is conveyed, with 
infinite precautions against theft and accident, to 
London or Paris or New York, where it is again 
placed under giound m the vaults of banks. It might 
just as well have been left underground in South 
Africa. 'Fhere was, possibly, some utility in bank 
reserves so long as it was held that on occasion they 
might be used, but as soon as the policy was adopted 
of never letting them sink below a certain mini- 
mum, that amount was rendered as good as non- 
existent. If I say I will put by j^ioo against a rainy 
day, I may be wise. But if I ‘^ay that, however 
poor I may become, I will not spend the ^loo, it 
ceases to be an effective part of my fortune, and I 
might just as well have given it away. This is 

bg 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

exactly the situation as regards bank reserves if they 
are not to be spent in any circumstances whatever. 
It is, of course, merely a lelic of barbarism that any 
part of national credit should still be based upon 
actual gold. In private transactions within a country, 
the use of gold has died out. Before the war it was 
still used for small sums, but people who have 
grown up since the war hardly know the look of a 
gold coin. Nevertheless it is still supposed that, by 
some mysterious hocus-pocus, everybody’s financial 
stability depends upon a hoard of gold in the central 
bank of his country. During the war, when sub- 
marines made it dangerous to transport gold, the 
fiction was carried still farther. Of the gold that 
was mined in South Africa, some was deemed to 
be in the United States, some in England, some in 
France, and so on, but in fact it all stayed in South 
Africa. Why not carry the fiction a stage farther, 
and deem that the gold has been mined, while leaving 
it quietly in the ground ? 

The advantage of gold, in theory, is that it affords 
a safeguard against the dishonesty of Governments. 
This would be all very well if there were any way 
of forcing Governments to adhere to gold in a 
crisis, but in fact they abandon gold whenever 
it suits them to do so. All the European countries 
that took part in the late war depreciated their 
currencies, and in so doing repudiated a part of 
their debts. Germany and Austria repudiated the 


70 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

whole of their iiiLernal debt by inflation. Frame 
reduced the fianc to a fifth of its loimer value, 
thereby repudiating four-fifths of all Govcinment 
debts that were reckoned in francs. The pound 
aerling is woith only about three-quarters of its 
l(>imer value in gold. The Russians frankly said 
that tliey would iiol pay their debts, but this was 
thought wkl.ed: respectable repudiation demands a 
certain etiquette. 

The fact is that Governments, like other people, 
pay their debts if it is to their mtcr"*st to do so, but 
lot otherwise A purely leg tl guarantee, such as 
die gold stand id, is useless in Limes of stress, and 
.inncc cssary at 01 ’ur tunes. A piivare individual 
finds it profitable to be honest so tong as he is likely 
to wish to borrow again and to able to do so, 
but when he has exhausted his cn dit he may Xind it 
more advantageous to abscond. A GovcrniiieiU is 
in a different positu 1 towards its own subjects 
from that in which it finds itself towards other 
countries. Its own subjects arc at its mercy, and it 
therefore has no motive for honesty towards them 
except desire to borrow again. When, as hajjpened 
in Germany after the war, there is no longer any 
prospect of internal borrowing, it pays a country to 
let its currency become worthless, and thus wipe 
out the whole internal debt. But external debt is 
another matter. The Russians, when they repudiated 
their debts to other countries, had to face war 


7 * 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

against the whole civilized world, combined with a 
ferocious hostile propaganda. Most nations are not 
in a position to face thu sort of thing, and are 
therefore cautious as regards external debt. It is 
this, not the gold standard, that ailbrcls what 
security exists in lending money to Governments. 
The security is poor, but cannot be made better until 
there is an international Government. 

The extent to which economic transactions 
depend upon armed forces is not usually realized. 
Ownership of wealth is ctcquircd, in part, by ii'.cans 
of skill in business, but siu h skill is only po^Mble 
within a framework of military or naval [)rowcss. 
It was by the use of armed force that New York 
was taken by the Dutch from the Indians, by the 
English from the Dutch, and by the Americans 
from the English. When oil v/as found in the United 
States, it belonged to American citizens; but when 
oil is found in some less powerful country, the 
ownership of it comes, by hook or by crook, to the 
citizens of some one or other of the Great Powers. 
The process by which this is effected is usually dis- 
guised, but in the background lurks the threat of 
war, and it is this latent threat which clinches 
negotiations. 

What applies to oil applies equally to currency 
and debt. When it is to the interest of a Government 
to debase its currency or repudiate its debts, it 
docs so. Some nations, it is true, make a great fuss 


72 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

about the moral importance of paying one’s debts, 
but they are creditor nations. In so far as they arc 
listened to by debtor nations, it is because of their 
strength, not because they are ethically c onvincing. 
There is therefore only one way of securing a stable 
currency, and that is to have, in fact if not in form, 
a single world Government, possessed of the sole 
effective armed forces. Such a Government would 
have an interest in a stable ciiri mey, and could 
dc( ree a currency with a constant pure hasing 
power in terms of the average of coinmoclities. 
This is the only true stability, and gold docs not 
possess it. Nor will so\ercign nations adhere even 
to gold in times of stress. The argument that gold 
secures a stabli' currency is thcri'lore fn^m every 
point of view fallacious. 

1 have been informed repeatedly, by persons who 
considered themselves hard-headed realists, that 
men in business normally desire to grow rich. 
Observation has convinced me that the persons 
who gave me this assurance, so far from being 
realists, were sentimental idealists, totally blind to 
the most patent facts of the world in which they 
live. If business men really wished to grow' rich 
more ardently than they wish to keep others poor, 
the world would quickly become a paradise. 
Banking and currency afford art admirable example. 
It is obviously to the general interest of the business 
community as a whole to have a stable currency 


73 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

and security of Credit. To secure these two desi- 
derata, it is obviously necessary to have only one 
central bank in the worid, and only one currency, 
which must be a paper currency so managed as to 
keep average prices as nearly constant as possible. 
Such a currency will not need to be based upon a 
gold reserve, but upon the credit of the world 
Government of which the one central bank is the 
financial organ. All this is so obvious that any 
( hild can see it. Yet nothing of the sort is advocated 
by business men. Why? Because of nationalism, 
that is to say, because they are more anxious to 
keep foreigners poor than to grow rich themselves. 

Another reason is the psychology of the producer. 
It seems like a truism that money is only useful 
because it can be exchanged for goods, and yet 
there are few people to whom this is true emotionally 
as well as rationally. In almost every transaction, 
the seller is more pleased than the buyer. If you buy 
a pair of shoes, the whole apparatus of salesmanship 
is brought to bear on you, and the seller of the 
shoes feels as if he had won a little victory. You, 
on the other hand, do not say to yourself: ‘'How 
nice to have got rid of those nasty dirty bits of 
paper, which I could neither eat nor use as clothing, 
and to have got instead a lovely new pair of shoes.*’ 
We regard our buying as unimportant in compari- 
son with our selling. The only exceptions are cases 
in which tlie supply is limited. A man who buys 


74 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

an Old Master is more ple^ised than the man who 
sells it; but when the Old Master was alive, he 
was no doubt more pleased to sell pictures than 
his patrons were to buy them. The ultimate psycho- 
logical source of our preference for selling over 
buying is that we prefer power to pleasure. This is 
not a universal characteristic : there are spend- 
thrifts, who like a short life and a merry one. But 
it is a characteristic of the energetic, successful 
individuals who give the tone to a competitive 
age. When most wealth was inherited, the psychology 
of the producer was less dominant than it is now. It is 
the psychology of the producer that makes men more 
anxious to sell than to buy, and that causes Govern- 
ments to engage in the laughable attempt to c reate 
a world in which every nation sells and no nation 
buys. 

The psychology of the producer is complicated 
by a circumstance which distinguishes economic 
relations from most others. If you produce and 
sell some commodity, there are two classes of man- 
kind who are specially important to you, namely, 
your competitors and your customers. Your com- 
petitors harm you, and your customers benefit you. 
Your competitors are obvious and f ompaiativcly 
few, whereas your customers arc diffused and for 
the most part unknowm. You tend, therefore, to 
be more conscious of your competitors than of your 
customers. This may not be the caise within your 


75 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

own group, but it is almost sure to be the case 
where an alien group is concerned, so that alien 
groups come to be regaided as having economic 
interests adverse to our own. The belief in pro- 
tective tariffs is derived from this source. Foreign 
nations are regarded rather as competitors in 
production than as possible customers, so that 
men arc willing to lose foreign markets to avoid 
foreign competition. There was once a butcher 
in a small town who was infuriated by the other 
butchers who took away his custom. In order to 
ruin them, he converted the wliolc town to vege- 
tarianism, and was surprised to find that as a result 
he was ruined too. The folly of this man seems 
incredible, yet it is no greater than that of all the 
Powers. All have observed that foreign trade 
enriches other nations, and all have erected tariffs 
to destroy foreign trade. All have been astonished 
to find that they were as much injured as their 
competitors. Not one has remembered that trade is 
reciprocal, and that a foreign nation which sells to 
one’s own nation also buys from it either directly 
or indirectly. The reason that they have not remem- 
bered this is that hatred of foreign nations has made 
them incapable of clear thinking where foreign 
trade is concerned. 

In Great Britain, the conflict between rich and 
poor, which has been the basis of party divisions 
ever since the end of the war, has made most indus- 
76 



THE MODERN MIDAS 


trialists incapable of understanding questions of 
currency. Since finance represents wraith, there is 
a tendency for all the rich to follow the lead of the 
bankers and financiers. But in fact the interests 
of bankers have been opposed to the interests of 
industiialists : deflation suited the bankers, but 
par^ilysed British industry. I do not doubt that, if 
wage-earners had not had votes, British politics 
since the war would have consisted of <l bitter 
struggle between financiers and industrialists. As 
things were, however, financieis and industrialists 
combined against wage-e »rners, the industiialists 
supported the finan*.ieis, nd the country was 
brought to the \crge of nun. It was saved only by 
the fact that the finaiuiers were defeated hy the 
French. 

Throughout the world, not only in Great liiitain, 
the interests of financ e in recent years have been 
opposed to the interc. lS of the general public. This 
stale of aflairs is not likedy to change of itself. A 
modern community is not likely to be prosperous 
if its financial affairs arc coiidiicted solely wutL a 
view to the interests of ffnancirrs, and witliout 
regard to the effect upon the rest of the population. 
When this is the case, it is unwise to leave financ iers 
to the unfettered pursuit of their private profit. 
One might as well run a museum for the profit of 
the curator, leaving him at liberty to sell t1 e con- 
tents wdicncvcr he happened to be offered a g lod 

77 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

price. There are some activities in whi. h the motive 
of private profit leads, on the whole, to the promo- 
tion of the general intciest, and others in Avhich 
this is not so. Finance is now definitely in the latter 
class, whatever it may have been in the past. 
The result is an increasing need of governmental 
interference with finance. It will be necessary to 
consider finance and industry as forming a single 
whole, and to aim at maximizing tlie profits of the 
whole, not of the financial part separately. Finance 
is more powerful than industry when both are 
ii»de])endent, but the interests of industry more 
ntaily coincide with those of the community than 
do the interests of finance. This is the reason that 
the world has been bi ought to such a pass by the 
exc essi\ e power of fiiiauce. 

Wherever the few have acquired power over the 
many, they have been assisted by some superstition 
which dominated the many. Ancient Egyptian 
priests discovered how to predict eclipses, which 
were still viewed with terror by the populace; in 
this way they were able to extort gifts and powers 
which they could not otherwise have obtained. 
Kings were supposed to be divine beings, and 
Cromwell was thought guilty of sacrilege when he 
cut off Charles I’s head. In our day, financiers 
depend upon the superstitious reverence for gold. 
1 he ordinary citizen is struck dumb with awe 
when he is told aljout gold reserves, note issues, 
78 



THE MODERN MIDAS 

inflation, deflation, reflation, and all the rest of 
the jargon. He feels that anyone who can converse 
glibly about such matters must be very wise, and 
he does not dare to question what he is told. He 
does not realize what a small part gold really plays 
in modern transactions, though he would be quite 
at a loss to explain what its functions are. He feels 
vaguely that his country is likely to be safer if it 
contains a great deal of gold, so that he is glad when 
the gold reserve increases and sorry when it 
diminishes. 

This condition of unintelligent respect on the part 
of the general public is exactly what the fmancici 
needs in order to rem^iin unlettered by the democ- 
racy. He has, of course, many other advantages in 
dealing with opinion. Being immensely rich, he 
can endow universities, and secure that the -most 
influential part of cicademic opinion shall be sub- 
servient to him. Being u.t the head of the plutocracy, 
he is the natural leader of all those whose political 
thought is dominated by fear oi Communism. Being 
the possessor of economic power, he can distribute 
prosperity or ruin to whole nations as he chooses. 
But I doubt whether any of these weapons would 
suffice without the aid of superstition. It is a remark- 
able fact that, in spite of the imjjortance of economics 
to every man, woman, and child, the subject is 
almost never taught in schools and even in universi- 
ties is learnt by a minority. Moreover, that minority 


79 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

do not learn the subject as it would be learnt if no 
political interests weie at stake. There are a few 
institutions which teacL it without plutocratic bias, 
but they are very few; as a rule, the subject is so 
taught as to glorify the economic status quo. All 
this, I fancy, is connected with the fact that super- 
stition and mystery are useful to the holders of 
financial power. 

Finance, like war, suffers from the fact that almost 
all those who have te( Imical ( nmpctence also have a 
bias w'hic h is contrary to the interest of the com- 
munity, 'Vvlien nisannament Conferences take place, 
tlic naval and militar\ e\j)crts are the ( hief obstacle 
to their success. It is not that these men are dis- 
honest, but that their habitual preoccupations 
prevent them from seeing questions concerning 
armaments in their proper perspective. Exactly the 
same thing applies to finance. Hardly anybexly 
knows about it in detail except those who are 
engaged in making money out of the present 
system, who naturally cannot take wholly impartial 
views. It will be necessary, if this state of affairs 
is to be remedied, to make the democracies of the 
world aware of the importance of finance, and to 
find ways of simplifying the principles of finance so 
that they can be ^videly understood. It must be 
admitted that this is not easy, but I do not believe 
that it is impossible. One of the impediments to 
successful democracy in our age is the complexity 

8o 



THE MODERN MIDAS 


of the modern world, which makes it increasingly 
difficult for ordinary men and women to form an 
intelligent opinion on political questions, or even 
to decide whose expert judgment deserves the most 
respect. The cure for this trouble is to improve 
education, and to find ways of exjdaining tiic 
structure of society which are easier to understand 
than those at present in vogue. Every believer in 
effective democracy must be in favour of this reform. 
But perhaps there are no believers in democracy 
left except in Siam and the remoter parts of 
Mongolia. 


r 


81 



V 


THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

When we compare our age with that of (say) 
George i, we arc conscious of a profound cliange 
of intellectual temper, which has been followed 
by a corresponding rhc^ngc (*f the tone of politics. 
In a certain sense, the outk^ok of two hundred years 
ago may be called ‘"rational,” and that which is 
most characteristic of our time may be called ‘"anti- 
rational.” But 1 want to use these words without 
implying a complete acceptance of the one temper 
or a complete rejection of the other. Moreover, it 
is important to remember that political events very 
frequently take their (olour from the speculations 
of an earlier time : there is usually a considerable 
interval between the promulgation of a theory and 
its practical efficacy. English politics in i860 v/cre 
dominated by the ideas expressed by Adam Smith in 
1776; German politics to-day are a realization of 
theories set forth by Fichte in 1807 ; Russian politics 
since 1917 have embodied the doctrines of the 
Communist Manifesto, which dales from 1848. To 
understand the present age, therefore, it is necessary 
to go back to a considerably earlier time. 

A widespread political doctrine has, as a rule, two 
very different kinds of causes. On the one hand, 

8-2 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

there arc intellectual antecedents* men who have 
advanced theories which have grown, by develop- 
ment or reaction, from previous theories. On the 
other hand, there are economic and political cir- 
cumstances which predispose people to accept 
views that minister to certain moods. These alone 
do not give a complete explanation when, as too often 
happens, intellertual antecedents are neglected. In 
the particular case that concerns us, various sections 
of the post-war world have had certain grounds of 
discontent which have made them sympathetic to a 
certain gc'neral philosophy invented at a much earlier 
date. I propose first to conskki this philosophy, 
and then to touch on the reasons for its present 
popularity. 

The revolt against reason began as a revolt against 
reasoning. In the first half of the eighteenth centuiy, 
while Newton ruled men’s minds, there was a wide- 
spread belief that the road to knowledge consisted 
in the discovery of simple general laws, from which 
conclusions could be drawn L deductive ratiocina- 
tion. Many people forgot tnat Newton’s law of 
gravitation was based upon a century of careful 
observation, and imagined that general laws could 
be discovered by the light of nature. There was 
natural religion, natural law, natural morality, and 
so on. These subjects were supposed to consist of 
demonstrative inferences from self-evident axioms, 
after the style of Euclid. The political outcome of 

83 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

this point of view was the doctrine of the Rights of 
Man, as preached during the American and French 
Revolutions. 

But at the very moment when the Temple of 
Reason seemed to br nearing completion, a mine 
was laid by which, in the end, the whole edifice w2ls 
blown sky-high. The man who laid the mine was 
David Hume. His Ireatise of Human Nature, pub- 
lished in 1739, has as its sub-title “An attempt to 
introduce the experimental method of reasoning 
into moral subjects.’’ This represents the whole of 
his intention, but only half of his performance. 
His intention was to substitute observation and 
induction for deduction from nominally self-evident 
axioms. In his temper of mind he was a complete 
rationalist, though of the Baconian rather than the 
Aristotelian variety. But his almost unexampled 
combination of acuteness with intellectual honesty 
led him to certain devastating conclusions : that in- 
duction is a habit without logical justification, and 
that the belief in causation is little better than a 
superstition. It followed that science, along with 
theology, should be relegated to the limbo of 
delusive hopes and irrational convictions. 

In Hume, rationalism and scepticism existed 
peacefully side by side. Scepticism was for the study 
only, and was to be forgotten in the business of 
practical life. Moreover, practical life was to be 
governed, as far as pc'ssible, by those very methods 


84 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

of science which his scepticism impugned. Such a 
compromise was only possible for a man who was 
in equal parts a philosopher and a man of the 
world; there is also a flavour of aristocratic Tcjryism 
in the reservation of an esoteric unbelief for the 
initiated. The world at large refused to accept 
Hume’s doctrines in their entirety. His followers 
rejected his scc'pticism, while his German opponents 
emphasized it as the inevitable outcome of a merely 
scientific and rational outlook. Thus as the ^result 
of his teaching British philosoph) became super- 
ficial, while (>\‘iinan philosophy became anli- 
rational — in eac h c ase from fear of an unbearable 
agnosticism. European thought has never recovered 
its previous wholc-hcartedness ; among all the 
successors of Hume, sanity has meant superficiality, 
and profundity has meant some degree of madness. 
In the most recent discussions of the philosophy 
appiopriate to quantum physics, the old debates 
raised by Hume are still proceeding. 

The philosophy v/hich has been distinctive ol 
Germany begins with Kant, and begins as a leaction 
against Hume. Kant was determined to believe in 
causality, God, immoitality, the moral law, and 
so on, bur pcrcc*ived that Hume’s pnih>sophy made 
all this dilhcult. He tlicrefore m vented a distinction 
between ‘"pure” reason and “practical” reason. 
“Pure” reason was concerned with what could be 
proved, which was not much; “practical” reason 

85 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

was concerned with what was necessary for virtue, 
which was a great deal. It is of course obvious that 
‘‘pure” reason w^as simply reason, while “practical” 
reason was prejudice. Thus Kant brought back 
into philosophy the appeal to something recognized 
as outside the sphere of thcoietical rationality, 
which had been banished from the schools ever 
since the rise of scholasticism. 

More imi)ortant even than Kant, from our point 
of view, was his immediate successor Fichte, who, 
passing over from philosophy to politics, inaugurated 
the movement which has devf ‘loped into National 
Socialism. But before speaking of him there is 
more to be said about the conception of “reason.” 

In view of the failuie to Gnd an answer to Hume, 
“reason” can no longer be regarded as something 
absolute, any departure from which is to be con- 
demned on theoretical grounds. Nevertheless, there 
is obviously a dilfcrencc, and an important one, 
between the frame of mind of (say) the philosophical 
radicals and such people as the early Mohammedan 
fanatics. If we call the former temper of mind 
reasonable and the latter unreasonable, it is clear 
that there has been a growth of unreason in recent 
times. 

I think that what we mean in practice by reason 
can l^e defined by three characteristics.' In the first 
place, it relies upon persuasion rather than force; 
in the second place, it seeks to persuade by means of 

&6 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

arguments which the man who uses them believes 
to be completely valid; and in the third place, in 
forming opinions, it uses observation and induction 
as much as possible and intuition as little as possible. 
The first of these rules out the Inquisition; the 
second rules out such methods as those of British 
war propaganda, which Hitler praises on the 
ground that propaganda “must sink its mental 
elevation deeper in pioportion to the numbers of 
the mass whom it has to grip’’ ; the third forbids 
the use of such a majf>j premise as that of Prc\ident 
Andie w Jackson a p) 9 of the Mississippi, “the 
God of the IJiiiv in nded tins great valley to 
belong to one nation,” which was s<df-cvidcnt to 
him and his heauns, but not easily demonstrated to 
one who cpiestioned it 

Reliance upon icason, as thus defined, assumes a 
certain community ol interest and outlook between 
oneself and one’s a. lieucc. is true that Mrs. 
Bond tried it on her ducks, when she cried “come 
and be killed, for you mm be stuffed and my 
customers filled” ; but in gcneial the appeal to reason 
is thought ineffective with those whom we mean to 
devour. Those who believe in eating meat do not 
attempt to find aiguments which would seem valid 
to a sheep, and Nietzsche does not attempt to 
persuade the mass of the popu’a ion, whom he calls 
“the bungled and botched.” Noi docs Marx try 
to enlist the support of capitalists. As these instances 

S7 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

show, the appeal to reason is easier when power 
is unquestioningly confined to an oligaicliy. In 
eighteenth-century Enjland, only the opinions of 
aristocrats and their friends were important, and 
these could always be presented in a rational form 
to other aristocrats. As the political constituency 
grows larger and more heterogcni'ous, the appeal 
to reason becomes more difficult, since there are 
fewer universally conceded assumptions from which 
agreement can start. When such assumptions cannot 
be found, men are driven to rely upon their own 
intuitions ; and since the intuitions ol different 
groups differ, reliance upon them leads to strife and 
power politics. 

Revolts against reason, in this sense, aie a re- 
current phenomenon in history. Eaily Buddhism 
was reasonable; its latci (oims, and the Hinduism 
which replaced it in India, were not. In ancient 
Greece, the Orphics were in revolt against Homeric 
rationality. From Socrates to Marcus Aurelius, the 
prominent men in the ancient world were, in the 
main, rational; alter Marcus Aurelius, even the 
conservative Neo-Platonists were filled with super- 
stition. Except in the Mohammedan world, the 
claims of reason remained in abeyance until the 
eleventh century; after that, through scholasticism, 
the renaissance, and science, they became in- 
creasingly dominant. A reaction set in with Rousseau 
and Wesley, but was held in check by the triumphs 
88 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 


of science and machinery in the nineteenth century. 
The belief in reason reached its maximum in thi 
’sixties; since then, it has gradually diminished, 
and it is still diminishing. Rationalism and anti- 
rationalism have existed side by side since the 
beginning of Greek civilization, and each, when it 
has seemed likely tf) become completely dominant, 
has always led, by reaction, to a new outburst of 
opposite. 

The modern revolt against reason differs^ in an 
important respect from most of iu pr< decessors. 
From the Oipliics onwards, the usual .lim in tlu 
past was salvation -a complex concept involving 
both goodness and hap}nness, and achieved, as a 
rule, by some difficuit renunciation. The irra- 
tionalists of oui time aim, not at salvation, but 
at power. They thus develop an ethic which is 
opposed to that of Christianity and of Buddhism; 
and thiougli their last of dominion they are ol 
necessity involved in politics. Their genealogy among 
writers is Fichte, Carlyle, Ma^zini, Nietzsche — with 
supporters such as Treitschke, Rudyard Kipling, 
Houston Chamberlain, and Bergson. As opposed to 
this movement, Benthamites and Socialists may be 
viewed as two wings of one party : both arc cosmo- 
politan, both are democratic both appeal to eco- 
nomic self-interest. Their diflerences inter se are as 
to means, not ends, whereas the new movement, 
which culminates (as yet) in Hitler, differs from 

89 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

boin as to ends, and difll rs even from the whole 
tradition of Christian civilization. 

The end which statesmen should pursue, as 
conceived by almost all the irrationalists out of 
whom Fascism has grown, is most clcaily stated by 
Nietzsche. In conscious opposition to Christianity as 
well as to the utilitarians, he i ejects Btmtham’s 
doctiines as regards both happiness and the “greatest 
number.” “Mankind,” he says, “is much more of 
a means than an end . . . mankind is merely the 
expeiimental mateiial.” The end he proposes is 
the greatness of cxceplional individuals: “The 
object is to attain that ciioimous encu^y of gicaints^ 
wliich can model the* man of the future by means 
of discipline and also by means of the annihilation 
of millions of the bungled and botched, and which 
can yet avoid going to nun at the sight of the suffering 
created thereby, the like of which has never been seen 
before.” This conception of the end, it should be 
observed, cannot be regarded as in itself contrary 
to reason, since questions of ends arc not amenable 
to rational argument. We may didike it — I do myself 
— but we cannot disprove it any more than Nietzsche 
can prove it. There is, none the less, a natural 
connection with irrationality, since reason demands 
impartiality, whereas the cult of the great man 
always has as its minor premise the assertion: “I 
am a great man.” 

The founders of the school of tliought out of 


90 



THL ANCESIRY OF FASCISM 

which Fascism has grown all have certain common 
characteristics. They seek the good in wdl iath(. 
than in feeling or cognition ; they value power moi e 
than happiness; they piefcr force to argument, 
war to peace, aristocracy to democracy, pro})aganda 
to scientific impartiality. They advocate a Spartan 
form of austciity, as opposed to the Christian 
form; that is to say, they view austerity as a means 
of obtaining mastery over others, not as a scll- 
di^cipline which helps to produce virtue, and 
happiness only in the next world. The later ones 
among them are imbued with popular Daiwinisrn, 
and regard the stiugglc for exiblerice as the source of 
a higher species; but it is to l)o latliei a !)tTuggle 
between races than one between individuals, such 
as the apostles of Iree corn]'>ctition advocated. 
Pleasuie and knowledge, conceived as ends, appear 
to them unduly passive. For pleasure they substitute 
glory, and, for knov.icdge, the pragmatic assertion 
that what they desire is true. In Fichte Carlyle, 
and Mazzini, these doctrine arc still enveloped in 
a mantle of conventional rnoialistic cant; in 
Nietzsche they first step forth nakc'd and unashamed. 

Fichte has received less than his due shaic of 
credii for inaugurating this great movement. He 
began as an abstiact metaphysician, but showed 
even then a certain arbiti.uy and self-ecnticd 
disposition. His whole philosophy develops out of 
the proposition ‘T am I,” as to ^vhich he says : 


9 * 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

“The Ego posits itself and it is in consequence of 
this bare positing by itself ; it is both the agent and 
the result of the actioi the active and that which 
is produced by the activity; I am expi esses a deed 
(Thathandlung) . The Ego is, because it has posited 
itself.” 

The Ego, according to this theory, exists because 
it wills to exist. Presently it appears that the non- 
Ego also exists because the Ego so wills it; but a 
non-Ego so generated never becomes leally external 
to the Isgo wJiich chooses to posit it. Louis xiv said, 
“I’etat, e’est moi”; Fichte said, “The universe is 
myself.” As Heine lemarked in comparing Kant 
and Robespierre, “in comparison with us Germans, 
you French are tame and moderate.” 

Fichte, it is true, explains, after a while, that when 
he says “I” he means “God”; but the reader is not 
w^holly reassured. 

When, as a result of the Battle of Jena, Fichte 
had to fly fiom Berlin, he began to tliink that he 
had been too vigorously positing the non-Ego in 
the shape of Napoleon. On his return in 1807, he 
delivered his famous “Addresses to the German 
Nation,” in which, for the first time, the complete 
creed of nationalism was set out. These Addresses 
begin by explaining that the German is superior to 
all other moderns, because he alone has a pure 
language. (The Russians, Turks, and Chiii(\sc, not 
to mention the Eskimos and the Hottentots, also 


92 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

have puK- languages, but they were not mentioned 
in Fichte's history books.) The purity ol the German 
language makes the German alone capable of pro- 
fundity; he concludes that ‘'to have chaiacter and 
to be German undoubtedly mean the same.” But 
if the German character is to be preserved from 
foreign corrupting influences, and if the German 
nation is to be capable ol acting as a whol^', there 
must be a new kind ol education, which will ‘‘mould 
the Germans into a corporate body.” Th^f" new 
education, he says, “must consist (Essentially in this, 
that it completely desiioys fictdom of the will.” 
He adds that will “is tlie very root of man.” 

There is ti) be no external comnierce, beyond 
what is absolutely unavoidable. Fheie is to be uni- 
versal militaiy service: ev'^erybody is to be cc^mpelled 
to fight, not foi material well-being, not for freedom, 
not in defence of the constitution, but under the 
impulsion of “the devouring flame of higher 
patriotism, which embraces the nation as the 
vesture of the eternal, for wl ch the noble-minded 
man joyfully saciifices himself, and the igno’ole 
man, who only exists for the sake A the other, must 
likewise saerdue himself.” 

This doctrine, that the “noble” mar is the purpose 
of humanity, and that the “iiTiioble'" man has no 
claims on his own account, is v i tlie essence of the 
modern attack on democracy. Chiistianit^ taught 
that every human being has au jmnK^ital soul, and 


93 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

that, in this respect, all men are equal; the “rights 
of man” was only a development of Christian 
doctrine. Utilitarianisin, while it conceded no 
absolute “rights” to the individual, gave the same 
weight to one man’s happiness as to another’s ; thus 
it led to democracy just as much as did the doctrine 
of natural rights. But Fichte, like a sort of political 
Calvin, picked out certain men as the elect, and 
rejected all the rest as of no account. 

The difficulty, of course, is to know who are the 
elect. In a world in which Fichte’s doctrine was 
universally accepted, every man would think that 
he was “noble,” and would join some party of 
people sufficiently similar to himself to seem to 
share some of his nobility. Those people might be 
his nation, as in Fichte’s case, or his class, as in that 
of a proletarian communist, or his family, as with 
Napoleon. There is no objective criterion of 
“nobility” except success in war; therefore war is 
the necessary outcome of this creed. 

Carlyle’s outlook on life was, in the main, derived 
from Fichte, who was the strongest single influence 
on his opinions. But Carlyle added something 
which has been characteristic of the school ever 
since : a kind of Socialism and solicitude for the 
proletariat which is really dislike of industrialism 
and of the nouveau riche. Carlyle did this so well that 
he deceived even Engels, whose book on the English 
working class in 1841 mentions him with the highest 


94 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

praise. In view of this, we can scarcely wonder that 
many people were taken in by the socialistic facade 
in National Socialism, 

Carlyle, in fact, still has his dupes. His “hero 
worship” sounds very exalted; we need, he says, not 
elected Parliaments, but “Hero-kings, and a whole 
world not unheroic.” To understand this, one must 
study its translation into fact. Carlyle, in Past and 
Present^ holds up the twelfth-century Abbot Samson 
as a model ; but whoever does not take that worthy 
on trust, but reads the Chronicle of Jocelin of Brake- 
londcy will find that the Abbot was an unscrupulous 
ruffian, combining the vices of a tyrannous landlord 
with those of a pettifogging attorney. Carlyle’s 
other heroes are at least equally objectionable. 
Cromwell’s massacres in Ireland move him to the 
comment: “But in Oliver’s time, as I say, .there 
was still belief in the Judgments of God; in Oliver’s 
time, there was yet u.t distracted jargon of ‘abolish- 
ing Capital Punishments,’ of Jean-Jacques Philan- 
thropy, and universal rose-w.tter in this world still 
so full of sin. . . . Only in late decadent genera- 
tions . . . can such indiscriminate mashing-up of 
Good and Evil into one universal patent-treacle 
. . . Lake effect in our earth.” Of most of his other 
heroes, such as Frederick the Great, Di. Francia, 
and Govunor Eyre, all that uecd be said is that 
their one common characteristic was a thirst for 
blood. 


9b 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

Those who still think that Carlyle was in some 
sense more or less Liberal should read his chapter 
on Democracy in Past and Present. Most of it is 
occupied with praise of William the Conqueror, and 
with a description of the pleasant lives enjoyed by 
serfs in his day. Then comes a definition of liberty ; 
“The true liberty of a man, you would say, consisted 
in his finding out, or being forced to find out the 
right path, and to walk thereon” (p. 263). He passes 
on to the statement that democracy “means despair 
of finding any Heroes to govern you, and contented 
putting up with the want of them.” The chapter 
ends by stating, in eloquent piophctical language, 
that, when democracy shall have run its full course, 
the problem that will remain is “that of finding 
government by your Real-Superiors.” Is there one 
^\ord in all this to which Hitler would not subscribe? 

Mazzini wcis a milder man than Carlyle, from 
v\hom he disagreed as regards the cult of heroes. 
Not the individual great man, but the nation, was 
the object of his adoration; and, while he placed 
Italy highest, he allowed a role to every European 
nation except the Irish. He believed, however, like 
Carlyle, that duty should be placed above happiness, 
above even collective happiness. He thought that 
God revealed to each human conscience what was 
right, and that all that was necessary was that 
everybody should obey the moral law as felt in his 
own heart. He never realized that different people 
06 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 


may genuinely differ as to what the moral law 
enjoins, or that what he was really demanding was 
that others should act according to his revelation. 
He put morals above democracy, saying: “The 
simple vote of a majority docs not constitute 
sovereignty, if it evidently contradicts the supreme 
moral precepts . . . the will of the people is 
sacred, when n interprets and applies the moral 
law; null and impotent, when it dissociates itself 
from the law, and only lepresents caprice.” This is 
also the opinion of Mussolini. 

Only one important element has since been 
added to the docliiiies of this school, namely the 
pseudo-Dai wmicin belief in “race.” (Fichte made 
German superiority a matter of language, not of 
biological heredity.) Nietzsche, who, unlike his 
followers, is not a nationalist or an anti-Semite, 
applies the doctrine only as between different indi- 
viduals : he wishes the unlit to be prevented from 
breeding, and he hopes, by the methods of the dog- 
fancicr, to produce a race ol uper-men, who shall 
have all power, and for whose benefit alone the rest 
of mankind shall exist. But subsequent writers with a 
similai outlook have tried to prove that all excellence 
has been connected with their own race. Irish pro- 
fessors write liooks to prove that Homer was an 
Irishman; French anthropok gists give archaeo- 
logical evidence that the Celts, not the Teutons, 
were the source of civilization in Northern Europe ; 

97 


G 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

Houston Chamberlain argues at length that Dante 
was a German and Christ was not a Jew. Emphasis 
upon race has been universal among Anglo-Indians, 
from whom imperialist England caught the in- 
fection through the medium of Rudyard Kipling, 
But the anti-Semitic element has never been promi- 
nent in England, although an Englishman, Houston 
Chamberlain, was mainly responsible for giving it 
a sham historical basis in Geimany, where it had 
persisted ever since the Middle Ages. 

About race, if politics were not involved it would 
be enough to say that nothing politically important 
is known. It may be taken as probable that there 
arc genetic mental diflerences between races ; but it is 
certain that we do not yet know what these differ- 
ences are In an adult man, the effects of environ- 
ment mask those of heredity. Moreover, the racial 
differences among different Europeans are less 
definite than those between white, yellow, and 
black men; there are no well-marked physical 
characteristics by which members of different 
modern European nations can be certainly known 
apart, since all have resulted from a mixture of 
different stocks. When it comes to mental superiority, 
every civilized nation can make out a plausible 
claim, which proves that all the claims are equally 
invalid. It is possible that the Jews arc inferior 
to the Germans, but it is just as possible that the 
Germans are inferior to the Jews. The whole business 
98 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

of introducing pseudo-Darwinian i irgon in such a 
question is utterly unscientific. Whatever we ma^ 
come to know hereafter, we have not at present any 
good ground for wishing to encouiage one race at 
the expense of another. 

The \v'hole movonie^nt, from Fu hte onv uds, is a 
method of bolstering up sclf-esU'em and lust foi 
power by means of beliefs whuh have nothing m 
their favour except that they arc flattciiiig 1 1 hte 
needed a doctrine whuh would make hitn feel 
supcrioi to Ni]))lcon, Carlvle and Nietzsche had 
infximitKS for whi'^li th > sm^ht ( omprnsation in 
the world of imagmilion, Ikiiish imp n ilism of 
Rudyard Kipling’s epo h was due to shame at 
haung lost inch’ trial uipicmary; and the llitlrnie 
madness of our time is a mmllr ol m^th in which 
the German ego keeps ip^clf waim agiinst the .cold 
blasts of Versailles No man thinks sanely when 
his self-esteem has sudered a moital wound, and 
those who elcliberateiv humiliate a nation have 
only themselves to thank if . becomes a nation of 
lunatics. 

This brings me to the reasons which have pro- 
duced the wide acceptance of the irrational and 
even anti-rational doctrine that we have been con- 
sidering llieie arc at most tunes ah sons of doc- 
trines ben ’ preached by all S( lo of prophets, but 
those which become pojuiLr mii^t make some 
special appeal to tlie moou pr hi ed by the circum- 


99 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

stances of the time. Now the characteristic doctrines 
of modern irrationalists, as we have seen, are : 
emphasis on will as opposed to thought and feeling; 
glorification of power ; belief in intuitional “positing” 
of propositions as opposed to observational and 
inductive testing. This state of mind is the natural 
reaction of those who have the habit of controlling 
modern mechanisms such as aeroplanes, and also 
of those who have less power than f )rmerly, but are 
unable to find any rational ground for the restora- 
tion of their former preponderance. Industrialism 
and the war, while giving the habit of mechanical 
power, caused a great shift of economic and political 
power, and therefore left large groups in the mood 
for pragmatic self-assertion. Hcik c the growth of 
Fascism. 

Comparing the world of 1920 with that of 1820, 
we find that there had been an increase of power 
on the part of: large industrialists, wage-earners, 
women, heretics, and Jews. (By “heretics” I mean 
those whose religion was not that of the Govern- 
ment of their country.) Corrclativcly, there had 
been a loss of power on the part of: monarchs, 
aristocracies, ecclesiastics, the lower middle classes, 
and males as opposed to females. The large indus- 
trialists, though stronger than at any previous 
period, felt themselves insecure owing to the threat 
of Socialism, and more particularly from fear of 
Moscow. The war interests — generals, admirals, 


100 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 


a\iators, and armament firms — were in the like 
ease: strong at the moment, but menaced by a 
pestilential crew of Bolsheviks and pacifists. The 
sections already defeated — the kings and nobles, the 
small shopkeepers, the men who from temperament 
were opponents of religious toleration, and the men 
who regretted the days of ma^^culine domination 
over women--5"eined to be definitely down and 
out; economic and (ultural e'ev lopments, it was 
thought, had left no place for them in the njodern 
world Naturally they wcie disum tented, and 
(ollectivcly they were nunieious. The Nietzschean 
philosophy was psychologically adapted to their 
mental needs, and, very f loverly, the industrialists 
and militarists made use of it to weld the defeated 
sections into a party which should support a 
mediaevalist reaction in everything except industry 
and war. In regard to industry .ind war, there was 
to be everything mocicrn in the way of techniejue, 
but not the sharing out of power and the effort 
after peace that made the Socialists dangerous to 
the existing magn ites. 

Thus the irrational elements in the Nazi philo^ 
sophy are due, politically speaking, to the need of 
enlisting the support of sections wh^ch have no 
longer any raison d'Sire, whi^e the comparatively 
sane elements are due to the industrialists and 
militarists. The former elements are “irrational” 
because it is scarcely possible that the small shop- 

lOI 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

kec'pers, for example, should realize their hopes, and 
fantastic beliefs are their only refuge from despair; 
per contra^ the hopes of industrialists and militarists 
might be realized by means of Fascism, but hardly 
in any other way. The fact that their hopes can only 
be achieved through the ruin of civilization does not 
make them irrational, but only Satanic. These men 
form intellectually the best, and morally the worst, 
element in the movement; the rest, dazzled by the 
vision of glory, heroism, and self-sacrifice, have 
become blind to their serious interests, and in a 
blcizc of emotion have allowed themselves to be used 
for purposes not tlic'ir own. “This is the psycho- 
pathology of Nazidom. 

I have spoken of the industrialists and militcarists 
who support Fascism as sane, but their sanity is only 
comparative. Thyssen believes that, by means of 
the Nazi movement, he can both kill Socialism 
and immensely increase his market. There seems, 
however, no more reason to think him right than 
there was to think that his predecessors were right in 
1914. It is necessary for him to stir up German 
sclf-confidence and nationalist feeling to a dangerous 
degree, and unsuccessful war is the most probable 
outcome. Even great initial successes would not 
bring ultimate victory; now, as twenty years ago, 
the German Government forgets America. 

There is one very important clement which is on 
the whole against the Nazis although it might have 


1 02 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

been expected to support reaction — 1 mean, orga- 
nized religion. The philosophy of the movement 
which culminates in the Nazis is, in a sense, a logical 
development of Protestantism. The morality of 
Fichte and Carlyle is Calvinistic, and Mazzini, who 
was in lifelong opposition to Rome, had a thoroughly 
Lutheran belief in the infallibility of the individual 
conscience. Nietzsche believed passionately in the 
worth of the Individual, and considered that the hero 
should not submit to authority; in this Jie was 
developing tlic Protestant spiiit of revolt. It might 
have been expected tlia.t the Protestant Churches 
would welcome the Ntizi movement, and to a certain 
extent they did so. Bat in all those elements whic h 
Protestantism shared with Catholic ism, it found 
itself opposed by the new philosophy. Nietzsche 
is emphatically anti-Chrisiian, and Houston Cham- 
berlain gives an imprcs)sion that Christianity was 
a degraded superstition which grew up among 
the mongrel cosmopolitans of the Levant. The 
rejection of humility, of love of one’s neighbour, 
and of the rights of the meek, is contrary to Gospel 
teaching; and antLSemitism, when it is theoretical 
as well as practical, is not easily r^rom iled with a 
religion of Jewish origin. For these reasons. Nazidom 
and Christianity have difficulty in making friends, 
and it is not impossible that their antagonism may 
bring about the downfall of the Nazis. 

There is another reason why the modern cult of 


103 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

unreason, whether in Germany or elsewhere, is in- 
compatible with any traditional form of Christianity. 
Inspired by Judaism, Christianity adopted the 
notion of Truth, with the correlative virtue of 
Faith. The notion and the virtue survived in “honest 
doubt,” as all the Christian virtues remained among 
Victorian free-thinkers. But gradually the influence 
of scepticism and advertising made it seem hopeless 
to discover truth, but very profitable to assert 
falsehood. Intellectual probity was thus destroyed. 
Hitler, explaining the Nazi programme, says : 

‘‘The national State will look upon science as a 
means for increasing national pride. Not only world- 
history, but also the history of civilization, must be 
taught from this point of view. The inventor should 
appear great, not merely as an inventor, but even 
more, so as a fellow-countryman. Admiration of any 
great deed must be combined with piidc because 
the fortunate doer of it is a member of our own 
nation. We must extract the greatest from the mass 
of great names in German history and place them 
before the youth in so impressive a fashion that they 
may become the pillars of an unshakable nationalist 
sentiment.” 

The conception of science as a pursuit of truth 
has so entirely disappeared from Hitler’s mind that 
he does not even argue against it. As we know, the 
theory of relativity has come to be thought bad 
because it was invented by a Jew. The Inquisition 

104 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 

rejected Galileo’s doctrine because it considered it 
untrue; but Hiller accepts or rejects doctrines on 
political grounds, without bringing in the notion 
of truth or falsehood. Poor William James, who 
invented this pcnnt of view, would be horrified at 
the use which is made of it, but when once the 
conception of objective truth is abandoned, it is 
clear that the question “what shall I believe?” is 
one to be settled, as T wTote in iqoy, by “the appeal 
to force and the arbitiament o[ the big battalions,” 
not by the methods of eitliei theology or sc itmi c 
States whose policy is b tsed upon the jcvolt again^i 
reason must thcTeforc find themselves in c onflict, 
not only with learning, but also with the Churches 
wherever any genuine (’hnstianily survives. 

An important element in the c ausation of the revolt 
against reason is that many able and energetic men 
have no outlet for their love of power, and thcrclore 
become sub\crsive. jmall States, formerly, gave 
more men political power, and small bu.sinesses gave 
more men economic powei Consider the huge 
population that bleeps in suburbs and works in 
great cities. Coming into London by train, one 
passes through great regions of small villas, in- 
habited by families which feel no solic^arity with the 
working class ; the man of the family has no part in 
local affairs, since he is absent all day submitting 
to the orders of his employers ; his only outlet for 
initiative is the cultivation of his back garden at the 


105 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

week-end. Politically, he is envious of all that is 
done for the working classes, but, though he feels 
poor, snobbery prevei ts him from adopting the 
methods of Socialism and trade unionism. His 
suburb may be as populous as many a famous city of 
antiquity, but its collective life is languid, and he 
has no time to be interested in it. To such a man, 
if he has enough spirit for discontent, a Fascist 
movement may well appear as a deliverance. 

Ihc decay of reason in politics is a product of 
iwo factors: on the one hand, there are classes and 
types of individuals to whom the world as it is offers 
no sc ope, but who sec no hope in Socialism because 
lliey are not wage-earners; on the other hand, there 
tire able and powerful men whose interests are 
opposed to those of the community at large, and 
who, therefore, can best retain their influence by 
piomoting various kinds of hysteria. Anti-Com- 
munism, fear of foreign armaments, and hatred of 
foreign competition, are the most important bogeys. 
I do not mean that no rational man could feel these 
sentiments; I mean that they are used in a way 
to preclude intelligent consideration of practical 
issues. The two things the world needs most aie 
Socialism and peace, but both are contrary to the 
interests of the most powerful men of our time. 
It is not difficult to make the steps leading up to 
them aplvin k ontrary to the interests of large sections 
of the population, and the easiest way of doing this 
106 



THE ANCESTRY OF FASCISM 


is to generate mass hysteria. The greater the danger 
of Socialism and peace, the inoie Governments 
will debauch the mental life of their subjects ; and 
the greater the economic hardships of the present, 
the more willing the sufferers will be to be seduced 
from intellectual sobriety in favour of some delusive 
will-o’-the-wiMp. 

Tlie fever < nationalism which has been in- 
creasing ever since 1848 is one form of the cult of 
unreason. The idea of one universal truth has been 
abandoned: tlicrc is Engli^li frulh, French truth, 
German truth, Montenegraii tnuh, and truth for 
the principality of Monaco. Similarly thcTC is truth 
for the wage-cat ncr and truth for the capitalist. 
Between thc^e different '‘truths,” if rational per- 
suasion is despaired of, the only possible decision 
is by means of war and rivalry in propagandist 
insanity. Until the deep conflicts of nations and 
classes wdiicli infect our world have been resolved, 
it is hardly to be expected that mankind will rclurn 
to a rational habit of mind. The dllficult) is that, so 
long as unreason prevails, a solution of our troubles 
can only be reached by chance; for while reason, 
being impersonal, makes universal co-operation 
possible, unreason, since it icpi'escnts private 
passions, makes strife inevitable. It is for this reason 
that rationality, in the seme of an appeal to a 
universal and impersonal standard of truth, is of 
supreme importance to the well-being of the human 

107 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

species, not only in ages in which it easily prevails, 
but also, and even more, in those less fortunate 
times in which it is despised and rejected as the 
vain dream of men who lack the virility to kill 
where they cannot agree. 


o8 



VI 


SCYLLA AND CHARYi!DIS, OR 
COMMUNISM AND FASl^ISM 

It is said by many in the present day lliat Com- 
munism and i'ascism arc the only pra( lieal alter- 
natives in politics, and that whoever does not 
support the one in effect supports the other. I find 
myself in opposition to both, and I can no mi)re 
accept either alternative than, if 1 had lived in 
the sixteenth (cntiiry, I could Irive been tdlher a 
Protestant or a Catholic. 1 will st i lorth, as l)ricny 
as I can, my objections, hrsi to ( ’oniuiunisin, then 
to I'ascism, and then to what both have in ( or.imon. 

When 1 speak of a '‘(\)mnuinist/’ I mean a 
person who accepts the doctrines of the I’liird 
International. In a jnse, the early Christians were 
Communists, and so were many mediaeval sects; 
but this sense is now obsok.e. 1 will set forth my 
reasons for not being a Communist seriatim. 

I. I cannot assent to Marx’s philosophy, still less 
to that of LrninN Materialism and Kmpirio-Criiicism. 1 
am not a materialist, though 1 am even further 
removed from idealism. I do not believe that there 
is any dialectical Rcccssily in historical change; 
this belief was taken over by Marx from Hegel, 
without its only logical basis, namely, the primacy 

log 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

of the Idea. Marx believed that the next stage in 
human development must be in some sense a pro- 
gress ; I see no reason fc^ this belief. 

2. I cannot accept Marx’s theory of value, nor 
yet, in his form, the theory of suiplus value. The 
theory that the exchange value of a commodhy 
is proportional to the labour involved in its pro- 
duction, which Marx took over from Ricardo, is 
shown to be false by Ricardo’s theory of rent, and 
lias long been abandoned by all non-Marxian 
(vonomists. "Ihe theory of surplus value rests upon 
Malthus’s theory of population, which Marx clse- 
V here rejects. Marx’s economics do not form a 
J<;gically coherent whole, but are built up by the 
alternate acceptance and rejei tion of older dr c rines, 
as may suit his convenience in making out a case 
against the capitalists. 

g. It is dangerous to regard any one man as 
infdlible; the consequence is necessarily an over- 
simplification. The tradition of the verbal inspira- 
tion of the Bible has made men too ready to look 
for a Sacred Book. But this worship of authority is 
contrary to the scientific spirit. 

4. Communism is not democratic. What it calls 
the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is in fact the 
dictatorship of a small minority, who become an 
oligarchic governing class. A.11 history shows that 
government is always conducted in the interests 
of the governing class, except in so far as it is in- 


1 10 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS 


fluenccd by fear of losing its power. This is the 
teaching, not only of history, but of Marx. The 
governing class in a Communist State has even 
more power than the capitalist class in a “demo- 
cratic” State. So long as it retains the loyally of the 
armed forces, it can use its power to obtain for itself 
advantages quite as harmful as those of ( apilalists. 
To suppose that it will always act for the gcncial 
good is mere foolish idealism, and is contiary to 
Marxian political psychology. 

5. Communism resiric ts liberty, pnrlicularly intel- 
lectual liberty, more, than any other system except 
Fascism. 'Ihc complete unification of both ec onomic 
<ind political power produces a teirifying engine of 
oppression, in which there are no loopholes for 
exceptions. Under such a system pr igress would 
soon become impossible, since it is the nature ol 
bureaucrats to object to all change except increase 
in their own power. All serious innovation is only 
rendered possible by some accident enabling un- 
popular persons to survive. Kc pier lived by astrology, 
Darwin by inheiitcd wealtn, Marx by Engels’s 
“exploitation” of the proletariat of Manchester. 
Such oppoitunitics of surviving in spite of un- 
popularity would be impossible under Communism. 

6. There is in Marx, and in current Communist 
thought, an undue glorificatior oi manual as against 
brain w'orkers. The result has been to antagonize 
many brain workers who might otherwise have 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

seen the nec cssily of Socialism, and without whose 
help the organization of a Socialist State is scarcely 
possible. The division of classes is put by Marxians, 
in practice even more than in theory, too low in the 
social scale. 

7. The preaching of the class-war is likely to 
( ause it to break out at a moment when the opposing 
forces are more or less evenly balanced, or even when 
the preponderance is on the side of the capitalists. 
If the capitalist forces preponderate, the result is 
an era of reaction. If the forces on both sides are 
roughly equal, the result, given modern methods of 
^\alfa^e, is likely to be ihe destruction of civilization, 
involving the disappearance of both capitalism and 
( 'ommunism. 1 think that, where democracy exists, 
Socialists should rely upon persuasion, and should 
(iiily. use force to repel an illegal use of force by their 
opponents. By this method it will be possible for 
Socialists to acquire so great a preponderance that 
the final war may be brief, and not sufficiently 
bcrious to destroy civilization. 

8. There is so much of hate in Marx and in 
Communism that Communists can hardly be 
expected, when vicloiious, to establish a regime 
affording no outlet for malevolence. The arguments 
in favour of oppression arc therefore likely to seem 
to the victors stronger than they arc, especially if 
the victory has resulted from a fierce and doubtful 
war. After such a war the victorious party are not 


112 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS 

likely to be in the mood Yor sane reconstruction. 
Marxists are too apt to forget that war has its own 
psyc hology, which is the rcstalt of fear, and is inde- 
pendent of the original cause of contention. 

The view that the only practically possible choice 
is between Communism and Fascism seems to me 
deliiiitely untrue in America, England, and France, 
and probably also in Italy and Germany. England 
had a period of Fascism under Cromwell, France 
under Napoleon, but in neither c ase was this a bar 
to subsequent democracy Politically immature 
nations are not the best guides as to the political 
future. 

My objections to Fascism are simpler than my 
ol ejections to Communism, and in a sense more 
fundamental. The puqiose of the Communists is 
one with which, on the wl'ole, I am in agreement; 
my disagreement is as to means rather than ends. 
But in the case of tue 1 ascist'5 I dislike the end as 
much as the means. 

Fascism is a complex movement; its German and 
Italian forms difler widely, and in other countries, 
if it spreads, it may assume still other shapes. It has, 
however, certain essentials, without which it would 
cease to be Fascism. It is anti-d'=*mocratic, it is 
nationalisi ic , it is c apitalistic, and it appeals to those 
sections of the middle class which suffer through 
modern developments and expect to sufler still 
more if Socialism or Communism becomes estab- 


II 


”3 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

lished. Communism, also, is anti-democratic, but 
only for a time, at least so far as its tlicorctic al state- 
ments can be accepUd as giving its real policy; 
moreover, it aims at serving the interests of wage- 
earners, who arc a majority in advanced countries, 
and are intended by Communists to become the 
whole population. Fascism is anti-demoi ratio in a 
more fundamental sense. It does not accept the 
greatest happiness of the greatest number as the 
ris^ht piinciple in statesmanship, but selects certain 
individuals, nations, and classes as ‘'the best,” and 
as alone worthy of consideration. The lemaincVr 
are to be compelled by force to serve the interests 
of the elect. 

While Fascism is engaged in the struggle to accpiire 
power, it lias to make an appeal to a corisiclercd)lc 
section of the population. Both in Germany and in 
Italy, it arose out of Soc ialism, by rejee ling what- 
ever was anti-nationalistic in the orthodox pro- 
gramme. It took over from Socialism the idea of 
economic planning and of an increase in the power 
of the State, but the planning, instead of being 
for the benefit of the whole world, was to be in 
the interests of the upper and middle class in one 
country. And these interests it seeks to secure, not 
so much by increased efficiency, as by increased 
oppression, both of wage-earners and of unpopular 
sections of the middle-class itself. In relation to the 
classes which lie outside the scope of its benevolence, 

1 14 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS 

it may, at best, achieve the kind of success to be 
found in a well-run prison; more than this it docs 
not even wish to do. 

The root objection to Fascism is its selection of a 
portion of mankind as alone important. The holders 
of power have, no doubt, made such a selection, in 
practice, ever since government was lirst instituted ; 
but Christianity, in theory, has always recognized 
each human soul as an end in itself, and not a mere 
means to the glory of others. Modem democracy 
has derived strength from the moral ideals of 
Christianity, and lias done much to divert Govern- 
ments from exclusive preoccupation with the interests 
of the rich and powerful. Fascism is, in this respect, 
a return to what was worst in ancient paganism. 

If Fascism could succeed, it would not do any- 
thing to cure the evils of capitalism ; on the contrary, 
it would make them worse. The manual work would 
come to be performed by forced labour at sub- 
sistence level ; the men engaged in it would have no 
political rights, no freedom as to where they lived 
or worked, and probably not even a permanent 
family life; they would, in fact, be slaves. All this 
may already be seen beginning in the German 
method of dealing with unemployment ; it is, indeed, 
an inevitable result of capitalism (reed from the 
control of democracy, and the similar conditions of 
forced labour in Russia suggest that it is an inevitable 
result of any dictatorship. In the past, ab^olutism 


”5 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


has always been accompanied by some form of 
slavery or seifdom. 

All this would result if Fascism were to succeed, 
but it is hardly possible that it should permanently 
succeed, because it cannot solve the problem of 
economic nationalism. The most powerful force on 
the side of the Nazis has been heavy industry, 
especially steel and chemicals. Heavy industry, 
organized nationally, is the greatest influence 
making for war in the present day. If every civilized 
country had a Government subservient to the 
interests of heavy industry — as is, to a considerable 
extent, already the case — war, before long, would 
be unavoidable. Each fresh victory of Fascism brings 
war nearer; and war, when it comes, is likely to 
sweep away Fascism along with most of what will 
have been in existence at its outbreak. 

Fascism is not an ordered set of beliefs, like 
laisser-faire or Socialism or Communism ; it is 
essentially an emotional protest, partly of those 
members of the middle-class (such as small shop- 
keepers) who suflFer from modern economic develop- 
ments, partly of anarchic industrial magnates whose 
love of power has grown into megalomania. It is 
irrational, in the sense that it cannot achieve w^hat 
its supporters desire ; there is no philosophy of 
Fascism, but only a psycho-analysis. If it could 
succeed, the result would be widespread misery; 
but its inability to find a solution for the problem 

116 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS 


of war makes it impossible that it should succeed 
for more than a brief moment. 

I do not think that England and America are 
likely to adopt Fascism, because the tradition of 
representative government is too strong in both 
countries to permit such a development. The ordinary 
citizen has a feeling that public affairs concern him, 
and would not wish to lose the right of expressing 
his political opinions. General Elections and Presi- 
dential Elections are sporting events, like the^Derby, 
and life would seem duller without them. Of France 
it is impossible to feel quite so confident. But I shall 
be surprised if France adopts Fascism, except 
perhaps temporal ily during a war. 

There are some objections — and these, to my 
mind, the most conclasive — which apply to Com- 
munism and Fascism equally. Both are attempts 
by a minority to mould a population forcibly in 
accordance with a preconceived pattern. They 
regard a population as a man regards the materials 
out of which he intends to construct a machine: 
the materials undergo much alteration, but in 
accordance with his purposes, not with any law of 
development inherent in them. Where living beings 
are concerned, and most of all in the rase of human 
beings, spontaneous growth tends to produce certain 
results, and others can only be produce, d by means 
of a certain stress and strain. Embryolojists may 
produce beasts with two heads, or with a nose 

"7 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

where a toe should be; but such monstrosities do 
not find life very pleasant. Similarly Fascists and 
Communists, having in their minds a picture of 
society as a whole, distort individuals so as to make 
them lit into a pattern; those who cannot be ade- 
quately distorted arc killed or placed in concentration 
camps. I do not think an outlook of this sort, which 
totally ignores the spontaneous impulses of the 
individual, is ethically justifiable, or can, in the 
long run, be politically successful. It is possible to 
cut shrubs into the shape of peacocks, and by a 
similar violence a similar distortion can be inflic ted 
upon human beings. But the shiub remains passive, 
while the man, whatever the dictator may desire, 
remains active, if not in one sphere then in another. 
The shrub cannot pass on the lesson in the use of the 
shears which the gaidener has been teaching, but 
the distorted human being can always find humbler 
human beings upon whom he can wield smaller 
shears. The inevitable effects of artificial moulding 
upon the individual are to produce either cruelty 
or listlcssness, perhaps both in alternation. And 
fiom a population with these characteristics no good 
thing is to be cxpec ted. 

The moral effect upon the Dictator is another 
matter to which both Communists and Fascists give 
insufficient consideration. If he is, to begin with, a 
man with little human sympathy, he will, from the 
first, be unduly ruthless, and will shrink from no 

118 



SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS 

cruelty in pursuit of his impersonal ends. If, initially, 
he suffers sympathetically from the misery which 
theory obliges him to inflict, he will cither have to 
give way to a successor made of sterner stuff, or 
will have to stifle his humanitarian feelings, in 
which case he is likely to become even more sadistic 
than the man who has undergone no such struggle. 
In either case, government will be in the hands 
of ruthless men, in whom love of power will be 
camouflaged as desire for a certain type of society. 
By the inevitable logic of despotism, whatever of 
good may have existed in the original purposes of 
the dictatorship will gradually fade out of sight, 
and the preset vation of the Dictator’s power will 
emerge more and more as the naked purpose of the 
State machine. 

Preoccupation with machines has produced what 
may be called the manipulator's fallacy, which 
consists in treating individuals and societies as if 
they were inanimate, and manipulators as if they 
were divine beings. Human beings change under 
treatment, and the operators themselves change 
as a result of the effect which the operations have 
upon them. Social dynamics is therefore a very 
difficult science, about which less is known than is 
necessary to warrant a dictatorship. In the typical 
manipulator, all feeling for natural growth in his 
patient is atrophied ; the result is not, as lie hopes, 
passive adaptation to a place in the preconceived 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

pattern, but morbid and distorted growth, leading 
to a pattern which is grotesque and macabre. The 
ultimate psychological argument for democracy 
and for patience is that an element of free growth, 
of go-as-you-please and untrained natural living, 
is essential if men are not to become misshapen 
monsters. In any case, believing, as I do, that 
Communist and Fascist dictatorships are alike 
undesirable, I deplore the tendency to view them 
as the only alternatives, and to treat democracy as 
obsolete. If men think them the only alternatives, 
they will become so; if men think otherwise, they 
will not. 


IffO 



VII 


THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

The great majority of Socialists, in the present day, 
are disciples of Karl Marx, from whom they have 
taken over the belief that the only possible political 
force by which Socialism can be brought about is 
the anger felt by the dispossessed proletariat^against 
the owners of the means of production. By an 
inevitable reaction, those who are not proletarians 
have decided, with comparatively few exceptions, 
that Socialism is something to be resisted; and 
when they hear the class-war being preached by 
those who proclaim themselves their enemies, they 
naturally feel inclined to begin the war themselves 
while they still hold the power. Fascism is a retort 
to Communism, ana a very formidable retort. So 
long as Socialism is preached in Marxist terms, it 
rouses such powerful antagonism that its success, 
in developed Western countries, becomes daily 
more improbable. It would, of course, have aroused 
opposition from the rich in any case, but the opposi- 
tion would have been less fierce and less widespread. 

For my part, while I am as convinced a Socialist 
as the most ardent Marxian, I do not regard 
Socialism as a gospel of proletarian revenge, nor 
even, primarily, as a means of securing economic 

I2I 



IN PRAISE Ol^ IDLENESS 

justice. I regard it primal ily as an adjustment to 
machine production demanded by considerations of 
common sense, and calculated to increase the happi- 
ness, not only of pioletaiians, but of all except a 
tiny minority of the human race. If it cannot now 
be realized without a violent upheaval, this is to be 
attributed largely to the violimcc ol its advocates. 
But I still have some hope that a saner advocacy 
may soften the opposition, and make a less 
catastiophie transition possible. 

Let us begin by a definition of Socialism. The 
diclinition must consist of two parts, economic and 
political, Ihc economic pait consists in State 
i)wncrsliip of ultimate economic power, which 
involves, as a minimum, land and minerals, capital, 
banking, credit and foreign trade. The political 
part requites that the ultimate political power 
should be democratic. Marx himself, and practically 
all Socialists before 1918, would have agreed to 
this pait of the definition without question, but 
since the Bolsheviks dissolved the Russian Con- 
stituent Assembly, a different doctrine has grown 
up, accoidiiig to which, when a Socialist Government 
has achieved success by revolution, only its most 
ardent supporters are to have political power. Now 
it must, ol course, be admitted that, after a civil 
war, it is not always possible to enfranchise the 
vanquished immediately, but, in so far as this is 
the case, it is not possible to establish Socialism 


122 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

immediately. A Socialist Govli ament which has 
carried out the economic pait of Socialism will 
not have completed its task until it has secured 
enough popular support to make denioc i atic govern- 
ment possible. The necessity of demociaty is evident 
if we take an extreme case. An Oiiental despot may 
decree that all the natural resources in his territory 
shall be his, but is not, in so doing, establishing i 
Socialist regime; nor can the rule of Leopold ii 
in ihe Congo be accepted as a model for iinitation. 
Unless there is popular control, there can be no 
reason to expect the ^uitc to coriduct its ccononric 
ciucjpiiscs except for its own enrichment, and 
tlicioforc cxploitatit»n will merely lake a new form. 
Democracy, accordingly, must be accepted as part 
of the definition of a Socialist regim(‘. 

With regard to the economic part of the definition, 
some further elucidation is necessary, since there 
arc forms oi private enterprise which some would 
consider compatible with Socialism while others 
would hold tire ojrpositc \.ew. Should a pioneer 
be allowed to build himself a log hut on a piece of 
land rented from the State? Yes. but it does not 
follow that private individuals slinuld be allowed to 
build sk) -scrapers in New York. Similarly a man 
may lend a shilling to a ^'riend, but a financier 
may not lend ten millions to a company or a foreign 
Government. The matter is one of degree, and is 
easy to adjust, since various legal formalities are 


123 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

necessary in large transactions, but not in small 
ones. Where such formalities are indispensable, 
they give the State opportunity to exercise control. 
To take another instance : jewellery is not capital 
in the economic sense, since it is not a means of 
production, but as things are a man who possesses 
diamonds can sell them and buy shares. Under 
Socialism he may still possess diamonds, but he 
c annot sell t\v m to buy shares, since there will be 
no shares to l)e bought. Private wealth need not be 
legally prohibited, but only private investment, with 
the result that, sinc^ no one will be in receipt of inter- 
est, private wealth will gradually melt away except as 
regards a reasonable modicum of personal possessions. 
Economic power over other human beings must not 
belong to individuals, but such private property as 
docs not confer economic power may survive. 

The advantages to be expected fi om the establish- 
ment of Socialism, supposing this to be possible 
without a devastating revolutionary war, arc of 
many different kinds, and are by no means confined 
to the wage-earning class. I am far from confident 
that all or any of these advantages would result from 
the victory of a Socialist party in a long and difficult 
class conflict, which would exacerbate tempers, 
bring to the fore a ruthless militaristic type, waste 
by death or exile or imprisonment the talents of 
many valuable experts, and give to the victorious 
Government a barrack-room type of mentality. 


124 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

The merits which I shall claim for Socialism all 
piesuppose that it will have l^ecn brought about 
by persuasion, and that such force as may be 
necessary will consist only of the defeat of small 
bands of malcontents. I am persuaded that, if 
Socialist propaganda were conducted with less hate 
and bitterness, appccding not to env^^ but to the 
obvious need of economic organization, the task of 
persuasion would Ije enormously facilitated, and the 
need for force correspondingly diminished. I depre- 
cate the appeal to force, except in defence of what, 
through persuasion, has become k^ally established, 
because (a) it is likely to fail, {b) the struggle must 
be disastrously destruclive, and [c) the victors, after 
an obstinate fight, arc likely to have forgotten their 
original objects, and to institute something quite 
different, piobably a military tyranny. I pre- 
suppose, therefore, as a condjtion for successful 
Socialism, the peaceful persuasion of a majority 
to acceptance of its doctrines. 

I shall adduce nine aiguments in favour of 
Socialism, none of them new, and not all of equal 
importance. The list could be indefinitely lengthened, 
but I think these nine should sullice to show that 
it is not a gospel for one class only . 

I. The Breakdown of the Profit Mitive 

Profit, as a separate economic category, only 
becomes clear at a certain stage of industrial develop- 


125 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

mcnt. The germ of it, however, might be seen in 
the relations of Robinson Crusoe and his Man 
Fiidciy. Let us suppose ihat, in the autumn, Robinson 
Crusoe, by means of his gun, has acquired control 
of the whole food-supply of his island. He is then in 
a position to cause Fiiclay to work at the preparation 
of next year’s harvest, on the understanding that 
Friday shall bi kept alive while all the surplus shall 
go to his cmplo^^er. What Robinson Crusoe receives 
under this contract mav be regarded as interest on 
his c apital, his capital being his few tools and the 
store d-iip food which he possesses. But profit, as it 
occuis in more civilized conditions, involves the 
furthei circumstance of exchange. A cotton manu- 
facturer, for example, does not make cotton only 
for himself and his family; cotton is not the only 
thing he needs, and he has to sell the bulk of his 
produce in order to satisfy his other icquiremi nts. 
But before he can manufacture cotton he has to 
buy other things: raw cotton, machinery, labour, 
and power. His piofit consists of the difference 
betw'cen what he pays for tli^sc things and what he 
receives for the Imishecl product. But if he himself 
manages his factory, we must deduct whatever would 
have been the salary of a manager hired to do the 
same work ; that is to say, the manufacturer’s profit 
consists of his total earnings less the wages of the 
hypothetical manager. In large businesses, where 
ihe shareholders do no work of management, what 

iQb 



iiiE Case for socialism 

they receive is the profit of the enterprise. Those 
who have money to invest are actuated by the 
expectation of profit, whifli is therefore the deter- 
mining motive as to wliat new undertakings shall 
be started and what old ones shall be expand'^d. It 
has been supposed by the defenders of our piesent 
system that the expectation of profit would lead, 
on the whole, to the right commodities being pro- 
duced in the light quantities. Up to a point, this 
has been true in the ]iast, but it is true no longci. 

This is a result of the complicaterl chaiarter of 
modern production. If I am an old-fashioned village 
cobbler, and the neighbours bring me theii shoes 
to be mended, 1 know that the produce of my 
labour will be wanted; but if I am a large-scale 
manufacturer of shoes, (‘mployiiig expensive machi- 
nery, I have to guess how many pairs of shoes I 
shall be able to sell, and I may easily guess wrong. 
Another man may ..avi better machinery, and Ije 
able to sell shoes more cheaply; or my foimcr 
customers may have grown ^ oorer, and have learnt 
to make old shoes last longer; or the fashion may 
change, and people may demand a kind of shoe 
which my n^achincs are unable to produce. If any 
of these things happen, not only d ) T cease to make 
a profit, but my machines stand idle and my 
employees are out of work. I nc labour that went 
into the making of my machines failed to result in 
the production of useful commodities, and was as 


127 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

completely wasted as if it had consisted of throwing 
sand into the sea. The men who are thrown out of 
employment are no longer creating anything that 
serves human needs, and the community is im- 
poverished to the extent of whatever is spent on 
keeping them from starvation. The men, bting 
dependent upon unemployment benefit instead of 
wages, spend much less than formerly, and there- 
fore cause unemployment among those who make 
the goods which they foimcrly bought. And so the 
original miscalculation as to the number ol shoes 
that I could sell at a profit pioduces gradually 
widening circles of unemployment, with accom- 
panying diminution of demand. As for me, I am 
tethered to my expensive machinery, which has 
probably absorbed all my capital and credit; this 
makes it impossible for me to turn suddenly from 
shoes to some more prosperous industry. 

Or take a more speculative business : ship-building. 
During the war, and for a little while afterwards, 
there was an immense demand for ships. As no one 
knew how long the war might last, or how successful 
the U-boats might be, enormously elaborate pre- 
parations were made for building unprecedented 
numbers of ships. By 1920, the war losses had been 
made good, and the need of ships, owing to the 
diminution of sea-borne trade, had suddenly grown 
much less. Almost all the shipbuilding plant became 
useless, and the great majority of the men employed 

138 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 


were thrown out of work. It cannot be said that they 
deserved this misfortune, since the Governments had 
urged them frantically to build ships as fast as they 
could. But under our system of private (‘nterprise 
the Governments had no recognized r^*sponsibility 
towards those who had been rendcretl destitute. 
And inevitably the destitution spread. There was 
less demand for steel, and therefore the iron and 
steel industry suffered. There was less demand for 
Australian and Argentine meat, because .*he un- 
employed had to be content with a spare diet. I'liere 
was, as a result, less dcinaud for the manufactures 
which Australia anO tlK‘ Argentine had taken in 
exchange for their meat. And so on indefinitely. 

There is one lurthcr very important reason for the 
failure of the pjofit motive in the present day, 
and that is the failure of scarcity. It often happens 
that goods ol ccrtiiin kinds can be produced in 
enormous quantities at a cheaper rate than on a 
more modest scale. In that case, it may be that the 
most economical mode of j»roduction would be to 
have only one factory for each of ihcsc kinds of 
goods in the whole world. But as this state of affairs 
has come about gradually, there arc in fact many 
factories. Each knows that if it wcie alone in the 
world it could supply everybody and malce a large 
profit ; but as it is, there arc competitors, no one is 
working up to full capacity, and therefore no one 
is making a secure profit. This leads to economic 

I 129 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

imperialism, since the only possibility of profit lies 
in the exclusive control of some huge market. Mean- 
while the weaker coinpcti(ors go under, and the 
larger the units the greater is the dislocation when 
one of them closes down. Competition leads to so 
much being produced that it cannot be sold at a 
profit; but tlic reduction in the supply is unduly 
slow, since, where tlierc is much expensive machinery, 
it may be less disastious to produce for a term of 
years at a loss than not to produce at all. 

All these confusions and dislocations result from 
leaving modern large-scale industry to be directed 
by the motive of private profit. 

In a capitalistic regime, the cost which determines 
whether a certain pioduct shall be manufaclured 
by a certain firm is the cost to that firm, not to the 
community. Let us illustrate the difference by an 
imaginary example. Suppose someone-- say Mr. 
Henry Ford — finds out a way of making motor-cars 
so cheaply that no one else can compete, with the 
result that all the other firms engaged in making 
cars go bankrupt. In order to arrive at the cost to 
the community of one of the new cheap cars, one 
must add, to what Mr. Ford would have to pay, 
the proper proper tion of all the now useless plant 
Irclonging to other firms, and of the cost of rearing 
and educating those woikeis and managers pre- 
viously employed by other firms but now out of 
v^ork. (Some will obtain employment with Mr. 

130 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

Ford, but probably not aJl, sincr the new process is 
cheaper, and therefore requires less laI)oiir.) I'hcre 
may well also l)e other expenses to the community 
— labour disputes, strikes, riots, extra police, trials 
and imprisonments. When all these items are taken 
into account, it may wHl be found that the cost of 
the new cars to the community is, at hist, con- 
siderably greater than that of the old ones. Now it 
is the cost to the community which dctei mines wliat 
is socially advantaqr^^us, while it is the coy to the 
individual n^anelac tuicr which delerniincs, in our 
system, what tafvs pkiAe. 

How Socialism w'ould deal with this problem I 
shall explain at a later stage. 

2. The Pombilily of Leivire^ 

Owing to the productivity of machines, much 
less woik than was formerly nrc( ssaiy is now^ needed 
to maintain a toleiablc standard of comfort in the 
human race. Some careful wi iters maintain that 
one hour's woik a day wotdd sutfiee, but perhaps 
this estimate dues not take sufficient account of 
Asia. I shall assume, in order to be quite sure of 
b(dng on the safe side, that four hours’ work a day 
on the part of all adults would ^cflice to produce 
as much material comfort as reasonable people 
ought to desire. 

^ I shall treat this topic bricily, since it is discussed in the lii st 
essay of tliis volume. 

131 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

At present, however, owing to the operation of the 
profit motive, leisure cannot be distributed evenly: 
some are overworked, while others are wholly 
unemployed. This results as follows: the value of 
the wage-earner to the employer depends upon the 
amount of work he does, which, so long as the hours 
do not exceed seven or eight, is supposed by the 
employer to be proportional to the length of the 
working day. The wage-earner, on the other hand, 
prefers a rather long day at good wages to a very 
short one at much lower wages. Hence it suits both 
parties to have a long working day, leaving those 
who, in consequence, are unemployed to starve or 
to be cared for by the public authorities at the public 
expense. 

Since the majority of the human race do not, at 
present, reach a reasonable level of material comfort, 
an average of less than four hours’ work a day, 
wisely directed, would suffice to produce what is 
now produced in the way of necessaries and simple 
comforts. That means that, if the average working 
day for those who have work is eight hours, more 
than half the workers would be unemployed if it 
were not for certain forms of inefficiency and un- 
necessary production. To take first inefficiency : 
we have already seen some of the waste involved 
in competition, but we must add to this all that is 
spent in advertising and all the very skilled work that 
goes into marketing. Nationalism involves another 

132 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

kind of waste : American automobile manufacturers, 
for example, find it necessary, owing to tariffs, 
to establish works in the principal European 
countries, whereas it would obviously save labour if 
they could produce all their cars in one huge estab- 
lishment in the United States. Then there is the 
waste involved in armaments, and in military 
training, which involves the whole male populatiot) 
wherever there is compulsory military service. 
Thanks to those and other forms of extravagance, 
together with the luxuries of the rich, more than 
half the population is still employ^xl. But so long 
as our present system lasts, every step towards the 
elimination of waste can only make the plight of 
the wage-earners even worse than it is now. 

3. Economic Insecurity 

In the present s^ate of the woild, not only arc 
many people destitute, but the majority of those 
who are not are haunted hv a perfectly reasonable 
fear that they mav become s > at any mouient. Wage- 
earners have the constant danger of unemployment; 
salaried employees know that their firm may go 
bankrupt or find it necessary to cut down its staff; 
business men, even those who are reputed to be 
very rich, know that the Irs’ of all their money is 
by no means improbable. Piolessional men have a 
very hard struggle. After making great sacrifices 
for the education of their sons and daughters, they 


'33 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

find that there are not the openings that there used 
to be for those who have the kinds of skill that their 
children have acquired. If they arc lawyers, they 
find that people can no longer afford to go to law, 
although serious injustices remain unremedied; if 
they are doctors, they find that their formerly 
lucrative hypochondjiac patients can no longer 
afford to be ill, while many genuine sufferers have 
to forgo much-needed medical treatment. One 
finds men and women of university education 
serving behind tlie counters in shops, which may 
save them from destitution, but only at the expense 
oi those who would lornv rly ha\e been so employed. 
In all classes, from the lowest to almost the highest, 
economic fear governs men’s thoughts by day and 
their dreams at night, making their work nerve- 
wracking and their leisure unn freshing. This cver- 
prese nt tenor is, 1 ihuik, the main cause of the mood 
ol madness which has swept over great pails of the 
civilized world. 

Ihe desire for wealth is, in most cases, due to a 
desire for security. Men save money and invest it, 
in the hope of having something to live on when 
they become old and infirm, and of being able to 
prevent their children from sinking in the social 
scale. In foinui days, this ho])c was rational, since 
there were such things as sale investments. But 
now security has become unattainable : the largest 
businesses fail. States go bankrupt, and whatever 


»34 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

still stands is liable to be swept away in the next 
war. The result, except for tho'*e who continue to 
live in a fool’s paradise, is a mood of unluij:)py 
recklessness, wliich makes a sane consideration of 
possible remedies very difficult. 

Economic security ^voiild do mnie to increase the 
happiness of civilized communiti's than any other 
change that can be imagined, except the prevention 
of war. Work - to the extent that may be socially 
necessary — should be legally obligatory^ for all 
h(.<iltliy adults, but their incoAi'c should deirernl 
only upon their wihingntss to work, and shr)uld 
not cease wheuj for some reason, their services 
are temporarily unnea'^sary, A medical man, lor 
example, should receive a certain salary, ceasing 
only with his death, though he woidJ rjot b^ cxpec led 
to work alicr a certain age. He should be sure of 
a good education for hi^^ children. If the health of 
the commuuit} improv'd so much that thcr'e was 
no longer need of tlv direct medical services of all 
qmdihed practition#"is, so e of ihem should he 
employed in meclK al icscarch or in in veslig iting 
measures of sanitation or the jrromotion of a more 
adequate ditl. I do not tliink it can be doubted that 
the great majority of mccUcal men v ould be happier 
under smli a system than they are at [ucsent, even 
if it in^ iAved a diminution ii ihe rewards cT the few 
who achieve eminent success. 

The desire for exceptional wealth is by no means a 

*35 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

necessary stimulus to work. At present, most men 
work, not in order to be rich, but in order to avoid 
starvation. A postman does not expect to become 
richer than other postmen, nor does a soldier or 
sailor hope to amass a fortune by serving his country. 
There are a few men, it is true — and they tend to 
be men of exceptional energy and importance— to 
whom the adiievement of a gicat financial success 
is a dominant motive. Some do good, others do harm ; 
some make or adopt a useful invention, others 
mariy)ulatf‘ the stock exchange or corrupt politicians. 
But in tljc main what they want is success, of which 
money is the symbol. It success were only obtainable 
in other forms, such as honouis or impoitant adminis- 
trative posts, they would still have an adequate 
incentive, and might find it more necessary than 
they do now to work in ways advantageous to the 
community. The desire for wealth in itself, as 
opposed to the desire for success, is not a socially 
useful motive, any more than the desiie for excess 
in eating or drinking. A social system is thcKfore 
none the woise for leaving no outlet to this desire. 
On the other hand, a system which abolished 
insecurity would do away with most of the hysteria 
of modern life. 

4. The Unemployed Rich 

The evils of unemployment among wage-earners 
are generally recogniz<‘d. The suffering to them- 

136 



THE CASE FpR SOCIALISM 

selves, the loss of their labour to the community, 
and the demoralizing effect of prolonged failure to 
find work, are such familiar themes that it is un- 
necessary to enlarge upon them. 

The unemployed rich are an evil of a diffeient 
sort. The world is full of idle people, mostly women, 
who have little education, much money, and 
coT^sequently ^rcat self-confidencc. Owing to their 
wealth, they are able to cause much labour to be 
devoted to their comfort. Although thc\\ seldom 
have any goniiine rultiiu, they the clihd ]>ations 
of art, which is not liU Iv to please them unless it is 
bad. Their usdfssivss diives them into an unreal 
sentimentality, which ( auses them to dislike vigoious 
sincerity, and to exercise a deplorable influence 
upon culture. Especially in America, where the 
men who make money are mostly too busy to spt nd 
it themselves, culture is largely dominated by 
women whose sole claim to respect is that their 
husbands possess the art of growing rich. There are 
tliose who maintain that ca] .talism is more favour- 
able to art than Socialism would be, but I tliink 
they are remembering the aristocracies of the past 
and forgetting the plutocracies of the present. 

The existence of the idle rich ha-^ olher unfortunate 
results. Although, in the mo^e important industries, 
the modern tciid^^mcy is tow rids h'w large enter- 
prises rather than many small ones, there are still 
many exceptions to this rule. Consider, for example, 

137 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

the number of unnecessary small shops in London. 
Throughout the parts where rich women do their 
shopping, there arc innumerable hat shops, usually 
kept by Russian countesses, each professing to be a 
little more exquisite than any of the otlicrs. I’heir 
customers drift from one to the next, spending 
hours on a purchase which ought to be a matter of 
minutes. The labour of those who seive in the 
shops and the time of those who buy in them is 
alike wasted. And there is the further evil that the 
liveliliood of a number of people becomes bound 
up with futility. The spending power of the very 
rieh causes them to have large numbers of parasites 
who, however far removed from wealth they may 
be themselves, nevertheless fear that they would 
be ruin(‘Ci if there were no idle rich to buy their 
wares. All these people suffer morally, intellectually, 
and' aitistically fiom their dependence upon the 
indefensible power of foolish people. 

5. Education 

Higher education, at present, is mainly, though 
not entirely, confined to the children of the well-to- 
do. It sometimes happens, it is true, that working- 
class boys or girls reach the university by means of 
scholai ships, but as a rule they have had to work 
so hard in the process that they are worn out and 
do not fulfil their early promise. The result of our 
system is that there is a great waste of ability; a 

138 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 


boy or girl born of wage-earning parents may be 
of first-rate capacity in mallieinatics, or music, or 
science, but it is very unlikely that he or she will 
have a chance to exercise this talent. Moreover, 
education, at least in England, is still infected 
through and through with snobbery : in private and 
elrmentary schools consciousness of class is imbibed 
by the pupils at every nKuiient o( their school life. 
And since education is, in the main, controlled by 
the Stale, it has to defend the :^tatus quo^ and[ there- 
fore must, as lar as pos'^ible, blunt the ciilical 
faculties of young pcoj)iC and prcs<-ivc them from 
“dangerous ihoughls.” All this, it must be admitted, 
is inevitable in any hisecure regime, and is worse 
in Russia than in England or America. But while a 
Socialist regime might, in time, become sufficiently 
scTure to he not aliaid oi ciiticisin^ it is now hardly 
possible that this should hdi)p(‘n to a capitalistic 
regime, unless by the esfablishment of a slave State 
in which the workers receive no education at ail. It 
is not to be exirccLed, thci foie, that the present 
dcfi‘cls ill the educational system can be rem^'died 
until the economic system has been transformed. 

6. The Lviancipation of Womeji and the Welfare of 
Youri^ Children 

In spile of all that has been done in recent times 
to improve the status of women, llic great majoiity 
of wives are still financially dependent upon their 

139 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

husbands. This depenrlcnc^^ is in various ways 
worse than that of a wage-earner upon his employer. 
An employee can throw up his job, but for a wife 
this is difficult; moreover, however hard she has to 
work in keeping the house, she cannot claim money 
wages. So long as this state of affairs persists, it 
cannot be said that wives have anything approaching 
economic equality with men. Yet it is difficult to 
sec how the matter can be remedied without the 
establishment of Socialism. It is necessary that the 
expense of children should be borne by the State 
rather than by the husband, and that married 
women, except during lactation and the latter part 
of pregnancy, should earn their living by work out- 
side the home. This will require certain architectural 
icforms (considered in an earlier essay in this 
volume), and the establishment of nursery schools 
for very young children. For the children, as for 
their mothers, this will be a great boon, since 
children require conditions of space and light and 
diet which are impossible in a wage-earner’s home, 
but can be provided cheaply in a nursery school. 

A reform of this sort in the position of wives and 
the rearing of young childicn may be possible 
without complete Socialism, and has even been 
carried out here and there on a small scale and 
incompletely But it cannot be carried out adequately 
and eompletely except as part of a general economic 
ij antjloimalion of society. 


140 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

7. Art 

Of the improvement to be expci ted in architecture 
from the introduction of Socialism I have already 
spoken. Painting, in former days, accompanied 
and adorned spacious architcctiue, and may do 
so again when the squalid privacy cnf>endeied by 
our competitive fear of our ncighboui^ has given 
place to a desire for communal bc'auty. llie modern 
art of the cinema has immense possibilities which 
cannot develop while the motive of producers is 
commercial; in fact, many arc of opinion that the 
u.s.s.R. has come nearest to icvili/ing these possi- 
bilities. How liteiature suffer^ fiom the conimeicial 
motive, every wiiter knows: almost all vigoious 
writing ofTcnd.^ ',ome group, and therefore makes 
sales less. It is difficult for writers not to measure 
their own merit by their royalties, and when bad 
work brings great pecuniary nwaids it requires 
unusual firmness of v^naiacter to produce good woik 
and remain poor. 

It must be admitted thai Socialism mii^hi make 
matters even worse. Since publishing will be a 
State monopoly, it will be eas> for the State to 
exercise an illiberal censorship. So long as there is 
violent ojiposition to the new rcigime, this will be 
almost unavoidable. But when the transition period 
is passed it may be hoped tiiat books which the 
State is not willing to accept on their merits may be 
published if the author tlnnks it worth his while to 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

defray the expense by working overtime. Since the 
hours will be short, this will be no excessive hardship 
but it will suffice to deter authors who arc not 
seriously convinced that their books contain some- 
thing of value. It is important that it should be 
possible to get a book published, but not that it 
should be very easy. Books at present exceed in 
quantity as much as they fall short in quality. 

8. Unpyofitabh Public Services 

Ever since civilized government began it has 
been recognized that there arc some thincs which 
should be done, bin cannot be left to the haphazard 
operation of the profit motive. The most important 
of these has been war: even those who arc most 
persuadea of the inefficiency of State enterprise do 
not suggest that national defence should be farmed 
out to private contractors. But there arc many 
other things that the public authorities have found 
it necessary to undertake, such as roads, harbours, 
lighthouses, parks in cities, and so on. A very large 
department of socialized activity, which has grown 
up during the last hundred years, is public health. 
At first, the fanatical adherents of laisser-Jaire 
objected, but the practical arguments were o\er- 
wdielming. If the theory of private enterprise had 
been adhered to, all sorts of new ways of making 
fortunes would have become possible. A man 
suffering from plague might have gone to a publicity 


142 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

agent who would have sent out circulars to railway 
companies, theatres, etc,, saying that the man 
contemplated dying on their premises unless a 
large sum were j aid to his widow. But it was decided 
that quarantine and isolation should not be left to 
voluntary CiTort, since the benefit w^as general and 
the loss individual. 

The increasing number and comjilcxitv of the 
public services has been one of the characteristic 
features of the past century. The most enormous of 
these is education. Before this was enforced uni- 
versally by the State, there were various motives 
for such schools and imiccrsities as existed. There 
were pious routKlatiom dating from the Middle 
Af^es, and secular foundations, such as the College 
de Trance, established by enlighlcnc 1 renaissance 
moiiarchs; and there were chaTty S( hools for the 
fa\ oared poor. None of these were run for profit. 
There were, howcvei, schools run for profit : of these 
Dotheboys Hall and Salem House were samples 
There still are schools run foi profit, and though the 
existence of education authorities prevents them 
from copying the model of Dotheboys Hall, they aic 
apt to rely upon their gentility rather than upon a 
high standard of scholastic attainment. On the 
whole, the profit moti\e has had litUe influence on 
education, and that little bad. 

Even when the public authorities do not actually 
carry out the work, they find it necessary to control 

143 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

it. Street lighting may be done by a private company, 
but it must be done, whether profitable or not . Houses 
may be built by private enterprise, but the building 
is controlled by by-laws. In tliis case, it is now 
generally recognized that a much stricter regulation 
would be desirable. Unitary town-planning, such 
as Sir Christopher Wren projected for London after 
the Great Fire, might do awaywdlh the hideousness 
and squalor of slums and suburbs and make modern 
(ities beautiful, healthy, and pleasant This example 
illustrates another of the arguments against private 
enterprise in our highly mobile world. The areas 
to be considered as units arc too large to be dealt 
vsitli by even the greatest plutocrats. London, for 
example, must be considered as a whole, since a 
large peiccntage of its inhabitants sleep in one part 
and work in another. Some important questions, 
siicfi as the St. Lawrence waterway, involve vast 
interests spread over different parts of two countries ; 
in such cases, even a single Government does not 
cover a sufficient area. Persons, goods, and power 
can all be transported much more easily than in 
former day.s, with the result that small localities 
have less self-sufruicncy than they had when the 
horse was the quickest mode of locomotion. Power 
stations are acc[uiring such importance that, if they 
are left in private hands, a new kind of tyranny 
becomes possible, comparable to that ofthe mediaev^al 
baron in his castle. It is obvious that a community 


144 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 


which depends upon a power station cannot have 
tolerable economic security if the power station is 
free to exploit its monopolistic advantages to the 
full. The mobility of goods still causes dependence 
upon the railway; that of peisons has j)artially 
returned to dependence upon the road. Railways 
and motor-cars have made the separation of town- 
ships obsolete, and aeroplanes are having the same 
effect on national frontiers. In these ways, larger 
and laiger areas, involving more and morg public 
control, are rendeied increasingly necessary by the 
]:)rogress of invention. 

9. War 

I come now to the last an ’ ’^^rongest argument for 
Socialism, namely, the need for pieventing war. I 
shall not waste lime on the likelihood of war or on 
its harmfulncss, since these may be taken for granted. 
1 shall confine myseil to two questions : (i) How far 
is the danger of war at the present time bound up 
with capitalism? (2) How f ir would the establish- 
ment of Sodahsin remove the danger.' 

War is an ancient institution, not brought into 
being originally by capitalism, although its causes 
were always mainly economic. Ir had in the past 
two main sources, the personal ambitions of 
monarch'), and the expansive adventurousness of 
vigorous tribes or nations. Such a conflict as the 
Seven Years War exliibits both features ; in Europe 

K 145 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

it was dynastic, whereas in America and India 
it was a conflict of nations. The conquests of the 
Romans were largely due to direct personal pecuniary 
mothes on the part of the generals and their 
legionaries. Pastoral peoples, such as the Arabs, 
the Huns, and the Mongols, have been repeatedly 
started upon a career of conquest by the insuffi- 
ciency of their former grazing-grounds. And at all 
times, except when a monarch could enforce his 
will fas in the Chinese and later Roman Empires), 
war has been facilitated by the fact that vigorous 
males, confident of victory, enjoyed it, while their 
females admired them for their prowess. Although 
war has travelled far from its primitive beginnings, 
these ancient motives still survive, and must be 
remembered by those who wish war to cease. Only 
international Socialism will afford a complete safe- 
guard against war, but national Socialism in all the 
principal civilized countries would, as I shall try 
to show, enormously diminish its likelihood. 

While the adventurous impulse tow^ards war still 
exists in a section of the population of civilized 
countries, the motives producing a dc'^ire for peace 
are much stronger than at any time during the last 
few centuries. People know by bitter experience 
that the late war did not bring prosperity even to 
the victors. They realize that the next war is likely 
to cause a loss of life among civilians to which there 
has been nothing comparable in magnitude at any 

146 



TUE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

time, or in intensity since the Thirty Years War, 
and that this loss will probably be by no means 
confined to one side. The> fear that capital cities 
may be destroyed and a whole continent lost to 
civilization. The British, in partidilar, are aware 
that they have lost their aqe-lon” immunity from 
invasion. These considerations have produced in 
Great Britain a passionate desire for peace, and ir 
most other countries a feeling of the same sort, 
themgh perhaps Ic^s intense. 

Why, in spite of all this, is th(‘re an imminent 
danger of war? The pioxiniate cause, of course, is 
the harshness of the Versailles Treaty, with the 
consequent growth of militant nationalism in Ger- 
many. But a new war would probably only produce 
an even harsher treaty than that of 1919, leading to 
an even more virulent reaction on the part of 
the vanquished. Permanent peace cannot issue from 
this endless see-saw, but only from elimination of 
the causes of enmity between nations. In the jircscnt 
day, these causes are main / to be found in the 
economic interests of certain sections, and arc 
therefore only to be abolished by a fundamental 
economic reconstruction. 

Let us take the iron and steel indu^^^y as the most 
important example of the vav in which economic 
forces promote war. The esscxUial fact is that, with 
modern technique, the cost of production per ton 
is less if a vast quantity is produced than it is if the 

H7 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

output is smaller. Consequently there is a profit 
if the market is sufficiently large, but not otherwise. 
The United States steel industry, having a home 
market which far exceeds all others, has so far had 
little need to trouble itself with politics, beyond 
interfering, when necessary, to block schemes of 
naval disarmament. But the German, French, and 
British steel industries all have a smaller market than 
their technical needs demand. They could, of course, 
secure certain advantages by amalgamation, but 
to this also there are economic objections. A great 
part of the demand for steel is connected with pre- 
parations for war, and therefore the steel industry 
as a whole profits by nationalism and the increase 
of national armaments. Moreover, both the Comite 
des Forges and the German steel trust hope, by war, 
to crush their rivals instead of having to share 
profits with them; and as the expense of war will 
fall mainly on others, they reckon that they may 
find the result financially advantageous. Probably 
they are mistaken, but the mistake is one which is 
natural to bold and self-confident men intoxicated 
with power. The fact that the vitally important 
Lorraine ore is in territory formerly German but 
now French increases the hostility of the two groups, 
and serves as a constant reminder of what can be 
achieved by war. And naturally the Germans arc 
the more aggressive, since the French already enjoy 
the spoils oi the late war. 

148 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

It would, of course, be impossible for the steel 
industry, and the other industries which have 
similar interests, to cause great nations to serve their 
purposes, if there were not impulses in the popula- 
tion to which they could appeal. In Franc c and Eng- 
land they can appeal to fear, in Germany to resent- 
ment against injustice; and these motives, on both 
sides, are perfectly valid. But if the matter could be 
given calm comideration, it would be obvious to 
both sides that an cciuilable agreement wou|d make 
everybody ha])picr. Tlicre is no go(>d reason why the 
Germans should coiitjuue to sulfer injustice, nor, 
if the injustice were removed, would they still have 
any reasonable excure for behaving so as to inspire 
fear in their neighbours. But whenever an effort is 
made ti) be calm and reasonable, propaganda 
intervenes, in the shape of appeals to patriotism 
and national honour. The world is in the condition 
of a drunkard anxii-)us to reform, but surrounded 
by kind friends offering him drinks, and therefore 
perpetually relapsing. In th. case, the kind friends 
are men who make money out of his unfortunate 
propensity, and the first step in his reformation 
must be to remove them. It is only in this sense 
that modern capitalism can be reg.Tided as a cause 
of war : it is not the whole cause, but it provides an 
essential stimulus to the other i.auses. If it were no 
longer in existence, the absence of this stimulus 
would quickly cause men to see the absurdity of 

H9 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

war, and to enter upon such equitable agree- 
ments as would make its future occurrence im- 
probable. 

The complete and final solution of the problem 
presented by the steel industry and others having 
similar interests is only to be lound in international 
Socialism, that is to say, in their operation by an 
authority representing all the Governments con- 
cerned. But nationalization in each of the leading 
industrial t countries would probably suflice to remove 
the pressing danger of war. Tor if the management of 
the steel industry were in the hands of the Govern- 
ment, and the Government were democratic, it 
would be conducted, not for its own benefit, but for 
the benefit of the nation. In the balance sheet of the 
public fhianccs, profits made by the steel industry 
at the exj^mse of other parts of the community 
would be olfset by losses elsewhere, and as no 
individual’s income wTJuId fluctuate with the gains 
or losses of one scjiarate industry, no one would 
have any motive in pushing the intciests of steel 
at the public expense. The imreased production of 
steel due to an increase of armaments would appear 
as a loss, since it would diminish the supply of 
consumable commodilies to be distributed among 
the poj)ulcition. In this w^ay public and private 
inte/ests would be harmonized, and the motive for 
deceptive propaganda would disappear. 

It remains to say something as to the way in 

150 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 


which Socialism would lemedy the other evils we 
have been considering. 

In place of the pursuit of profits as the guiding 
motive in industry, there will be Government 
planning. While the Governmeni may miscalculate, 
it is less likely to do so than a private individual, 
btxause it will have fuller knowlecl.ee. When the 
price of rubber was high, everybody who could 
planted rubber trees, willi the result that, after a 
few years, the price lell disastrously, and it was 
found necessary to make an agreement restricting 
the output of rubbci A central authority, which 
possesses ah the can jjrcvcnt this sort of 

miscalculation. Mcvcrlhelcss, unlbics^en causes, such 
as new inventions, may falsify even the most careful 
estimates. In such cases, the community as a whole 
gains by making the transition to new processes a 
gradual one. And in regard to tliose wlio, at any 
moment, are unen ^ loyod, it will be possible under 
Socialism to adopt measures which at present are 
impossible owing to the fear of unemployment 
and the mutual suspicions of employees and em- 
ployed. When one indusiry is decaying and another 
expanding, the younger men can be taken out of 
the de( a>ing industiy and trained in the expanding 
one. Most of the unemployment can be prevented 
by sh()i»cniiig the hours oi ’ hour. When no work 
can be found for a man, he will receive full wages 
none the less, since he will be paid for wdlingness to 

151 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

work. In so far as work has to be enforced, it will 
be enforced by the criminal law, not by economic 
sanctions. 

It will be left to those who do the planning, and 
therefore ultimately to the popular vote, to strike a 
balance between comfort and leisure. If everyone 
works four hours a day there will be less comfort 
than if everybody works five. One may expect that 
technological impro\ements will be utilized partly 
to provide more comfort and partly to provide more 
leisure. 

Economic insecurity will no longer exist (except 
in so far as there may still be danger of war), since 
everyone will receive a salary so long as he is not a 
criminal, and the expense of children will be borne 
by the State. Whes will not be dependent upon 
husbands, nor will children be allowed to suffer 
seriously for their parents’ defects. There will be no 
economic dependence of one individual upon another, 
but only of all individuals upon the State. 

While Socialism exists in some civilized countries 
but not in others, there will still be a possibility of 
war, and the full benefits of the system will not be 
realizable. But I think it may be safely assumed that 
each country which adopts Socialism will cease to 
be aggressively militaristic, and will be genuinely 
concerned only to prevent aggression on the part 
of others. When Socialism has become universal 
throughout the civilized world, the motives for 

*52 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 

large-scale wars will probably no longer have 
sufficient force to overcome the very obvious reasons 
for preferring peace. 

Socialism, 1 repeat, is not a doctrine for the 
proletariat only. By preventing economic insecurity, 
it is calculated to increase the happiness of all but 
a handful of the richest people; and if, as 1 firmly 
believe, it can prevent fiist-class wars, it will im- 
measurably increase the well-ljeing of the whole 
world — for the belief of certain industrial mie nates 

N 

that they could profit by another Great War, in 
spite of the economic argumrmt by which their 
view can be made to seem plausible, is an insane 
delusion of megalomaniacs. 

Is it really the case, as Communists maintain, that 
Socialism, a system so universally bencfficent and 
so easy to understand, a system, moreover, recom- 
mended by the obvious breakdown of the present 
economic regime a^^xd by the pressing danger ol 
universal disaster through war — is it rerdly the 
case that this system can. )t be presented per- 
suasively except to proletarians and a handful of 
intellectuals, and can only be introduced by means 
of a bloody, doubtful, and destructhe class-war? I, 
for my part, find this impossible to beh'eve. Socialism, 
in some respects, runs counter to anch nt habits, 
and then fore rouses an impu opposition which 
can only be overcome graduallv. And in the minds 
of its opponents it has become associated with 

153 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

atheism and a reign of terror. With religion 
Socialism has nothing to do. It is an economic 
dpctrine, and a Socialist might be a Chriotian or 
a Mohammedan, a Buddhist or a worshipper of 
Brahma, without any logical inconsistency. As for 
the reign of terror, there have been many reigns of 
terror in recent times, mostly on the side of reaction, 
and where Socialism comes as a revolt against one 
of these it is to be feared that it will inherit some of 
the fierceness of the previous regime. But in countries 
which si ill permit some degree office thought and 
fiec speccli, I believe that the Socialist case can, with 
ardour and patience combined, be so presented as 
to persuade much more than half the population. 
If, when that time comes, the minority illegally 
appeals lo force, the majority will, of course, have 
lo use force to suppress the rel^els. But if the previous 
work of persuasion has been adequately performed, 
rebellion ought to be so obviously hop(‘]css that 
even the most reactionary would not attempt it, or, 
if they did, they would be defeated so easily and 
quickly that there would be no occasion for a reign 
of terror. While persuasion is possilde and a majority 
are still unpersuaded, the appeal to force is out of 
place; when a majority have been persuaded, the 
matter can be left to the ordinary operation of 
democratic government, unless lawless persons see 
fit to raise an insurrection. The suppression of such 
an insurrection would be a measure such as any 


154 



THE CASE FOR SOCIALISM 


Government would undertake, and vSocialis^s have 
no moic occasion to appeal to li^ree than have 
other constitutional parties in democratic countries. 
And if Socialists arc ever to have Ibice at their 
command, it is only by previous persuasion that 
they can acquire it. 

It is customary in certain circles to ar^ue that, 
while Socialism mi^ht, perhaps, at one lime, have 
been secured by the ordinary nieihods of p jiiucai 
propaganda, the growth ol I'ascisin has now made 
this impossible. As legaids the coimlrics tluit have 
Fascist Governments aiis is, ol couise, true, since 
no constitutional ojjposiiion is ])ossiblo. but in 
France, Gieat iiiiufni, ami liie Luaed States the 
matter is olluiwisc. in liaiue exud (Jjcat ihitain 
there arc power ml S.xialist parlies; in Great 
Britain and America the Communists are nuineii- 
cally negligi Jc, and there is no sign that they are 
gaming giouiid. li.^y nave just sufficed to provide 
the leactiouaiies with an excuse for mildly represdve 
measures, but these have not been mllici. ntly 
terrifying to prevciii the rcvxval ol the Laooui Tarty 
or the growth of radicalism in the United States. 
It is far Irorn improbable that Socialists vvdl soon 
be in a majority in Great Britain They will then, 
no doubt, encounter difficullun m can>ing out 
their policy, and the more i . I’d may try to make 
these difficulties an excuse for post]xmcmcnt, mis- 
takenly, for, while persuasion, unavoidably, is 

155 



i. N PRAISL Ol IDLLNESS 

gradual, the final transition to Socialism must be 
swift and sudden. Bu there is as yet no good ground 
for supposing that coi stitutional methods will fail, 
and there is much less for supposing that any others 
have a better chance of success. On the contrary, 
every appeal to uncf>n titutional violence helps on 
the growth of Fascism Whatever may be the weak- 
nesses of democracy, it is only by means of it and 
by the help of the popiilai belief in it that Socialism 
can hope to succeed in Great Bdtain or America. 
Whoever weakens the icspcct for democratic govern- 
ment is, intentiunallv oi unintentionally, inci easing 
thi likf Idiood, not oi Socialism or Commumsm, 
but of I ascism. 


* 5 ^ 



vni 


WESTERN ClViJTZATlON 

To sec one’s own civilization in a true ])crspcrtive 
is by no means easy, llurr are three obvious means 
to this end, namely travel, history, and anlhropalooy, 
and what I shall have Lo sav is su,t> [jested by all three; 
but no one of the three is as great a help to objec- 
tivity as it appears to be. 'hhe trav('ller se^s only 
what interests him; f(>i ex imple, Marco Polo never 
noticed Chinese women's small feet. The hisioiian 
arranges events in patu rns derivc'd from his pre- 
occupations: the decav of Rome has been variously 
asciibed to imperialism, Christianity, malaria, 
divorce, and immigration the last two being llic 
favourites in America with parsons and politicians 
respectively. The aathiopologist selects and inter- 
prets facts according to the prevailing prejudices of 
his day. What do we, who st y at home, know about 
the savage.^ Rousseauites say he is noble, im- 
perialists say he is cruel; ecclesiastically minded 
anthropologists say he is a virtuous family man, 
while advocates of divorce lav/ refornj say he 
practices free love; Sir James Fraser says he is 
always killing his god, while >dicrs say he is always 
engaged in initiation ceremonies. In short, the savage 
is an obliging fellow who does whatever is necessary 

157 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


for the anthropologist’s theories. In spite of these 
drawbacks, travel, history, and anthropology are 
the best means, and we must make the most of 
them. 

First of all, what is civilization? Its first essential 
character, I should say, is forethought. I'his, indeed, 
is what mainly distinguishes men from brutes and 
adults from children. But forethought being a 
matter of degree, we can distinguish more or less 
civilized nations and epochs according to the amount 
of it that they display. And forethought is capable of 
almost precise measurement. I will not say that the 
average forethought of a community is inversely 
proportional to the rate of interest, though this is 
a view which might be upheld. But we can say that 
the degree of forethought involved in any act is 
measured by three factors: present pain, future 
pleasure, and the length of the interval between 
them. That is to say, the forethought is obtained by 
dividing the present pain by the future pleasure 
and then multiplying by the interval of time 
between them. There is a difference between indi- 
vidual and collective forethought. In an aristocratic 
or plutocratic community, one man can endure the 
present pain while another enjoys the future pleasure. 
This makes collective forethought easier. All the 
characteristic works of industrialism exhibit a high 
degree of collective forethought in this sense : those 
who make railways, or harbours, or ships, are doing 

158 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 

something of which the benefit is only reaped years 
later. 

It is true that no one in the modern world shows 
as much forethought as the ancient Egyptians 
showed in emb^iJ ruing their dead, for tliis was done 
with a view to their resurrection after some 10,000 
years. This brings me to another clement which is 
essential to civilization, namely knowledge. Fore- 
thought based upon sup‘‘rstilion cannot count as 
fully civilized, although it may bring l^ibits of 
mind essential to the growth of true chilizatiori. 
For instance, the Furitan babit of po opening 
pleasures to the next life undoubtedly facilitated the 
accumulation of capital required for industrialism. 
We may then d^^fine civilization as: A manmr of life 
due to the comb inn hon of knowled^t, andji lethoufht. 

Civilization in this sense begins with agiiculture 
and the domestication of runiinants. There was 
until fairly recent times a sharp separation between 
agricultural and pastoral peoples. Wc read in 
Genesis xlvi. 31-4, how thi Israelites had to settle 
in the land of Goshen rather than iii Egypt proper 
because the Egyptians objected to pastoral pursuits : 
“And Joseph said unto his brethren, and unto his 
father’s house, 1 will go up, and shew Pharaoh, and 
say unto him, my brethren, and my father’s house, 
which were in the land of Canaan, are come unto 
me; and the men are shepherds, for their trade 
hath been to feed cattle; and they have brought 


*59 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

their floc ks, and tlr‘ir herds, and all that they have. 
And it shall come to pass, when Pharaoh shall call 
you, and shall say, What is your occupation? That 
ye shall say, Thy servants’ trade hath been about 
cattle from our youth even until now, both we, and 
also our fathers : that ye may dwell in the land of 
Cooslien; for every shepherd is an abomination unto 
the Egyptians.” In the travels of M. Hue one finds 
a similar attitude of the Chinese towards the pastoral 
Mongols. On the whole, the agricultural type has 
always represented the higher civilization, and has 
had moie to do with religion. But the flocks and 
heids of the patriarchs had a considerable influence 
upon Jewish religion, and thence upon Christianity. 
The stoiy of Cain and Abel is a piece of propaganda 
intended to show that shepherds are more virtuous 
than ploughmen. Nevertheless, civilization rested 
mainly upon agriculture until quite modern times. 

So far we have not considered anything that 
distinguishes Western civilization from that of other 
Regions such as India, China, Japan, and Mexico. 
There was in fact very much less difference before 
the rise of science than there has come to be since. 
Science and industrialism are nowadays the dis- 
tinctive marks of Western civilization; but I wish 
first to consider what our civilization was before the 
Industrial Revolution. 

If we go back to the origins of Western civilization, 
we find that what it has derived from Egypt and 

160 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 


Babylonia is, in the main, characteristic of all 
civilizations and not specially distinctive of the 
West. The distinctive Western chaiactcr begins with 
the Greeks, who invented the habit of deductive 
r(‘asoning and the science of geometry. Their other 
merits were either not distinctive or lost in the Dark 
Ages. In literature and art they may have been 
supreme, but they did not differ very profouridlv 
from various other ancient nations. In experi- 
mental science they produced a lew men, ^notably 
Archimedes, who anticipated modern m' ihods, 
but these men did not succeed in csia)»lishing a 
srhool or a tradition. The one prominent distinc- 
tive contrib'utioii of the Greeks to civilization was 
deductive reasoning and pure mathematics. 

The Greeks, however, were politically incompetent, 
and their contribution to ci\dlization would probably 
have been lost but for the goveniniental ca{)deity of 
the Romans. The Romans discovered how to carry 
on the government of a great empire by means ol a 
civil service and a body of J vv. In previous empires 
everything had depended upon the v^igour of the 
monarch, but in the Roman Empire the cmpeior 
could be murdered by the Praetorian Guards and the 
empire put up to auction with very Ihtlc disturbance 
of the governmental machine — almost as little, in 
fact, as is now involved in a guicral election. The 
Romans seem to have in\ented lh(‘ virtue of devotion 
to the impersonal State as opposed to loyalty to the 

L i6i 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

person of the ruler. The Greeks, it is true, talked of 
patriotism, but their politicians were coriupt, and 
almost all of them at some period of their career 
accepted bribes from Persia. The Roman concep- 
tion of devotion to the State has been an essential 
element in the production ol stable government in 
the West. 

One thing more was necessary to complete Western 
civilization as it existed before modern times, and 
tliat was the pcculiai relation between government 
and religion which came through Christianity. 
Christianity wa^ originally quite non-political, since 
it grew up in the Roman Empire as a consolation 
to those who had lost national and personal liberty; 
and it took over from Judaism an attitude of moral 
condemnation towards the rulers of the world. In 
the years before Constantine, Christianity developed 
an organization to which the Christian owed a 
loyalty even greater than that which hr owed to the 
State. When Rome fell, the Church pieserved in a 
singular synthesis what had proved most vital in the 
civilizations of the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans. 
From Jewish moral fervour came the ethical precepts 
of Christianity; from the Greek love of deductive 
reasoning came theology; from the example of 
Roman imperialism and jurisprudence came the 
centralized government of the Church and the body 
of Canon Law. 

Although these elements of a high civilization 

162 



W E S T r- R N CIVILIZATION 

were, in a sense, preserved throughout the Middle 
Ages, they remained for a long time more or less 
latent. And Western civilization was not in fact 
the In sL in existence at that time : both the Moham- 
medans and the Chinese were superior to the West. 
Why the West : 5 hould have started upon such a rapid 
upward course is, 1 think, to a very great extent a 
mystery. It is cui^tomary in our age to find econom^'' 
causes for evciything, but explanations based upon 
this practice tciul to be unduly lacile. Economic 
causes alone will not, for example, explain the 
decay of SpJn, which is attribuiable radi'^r to 
intolerance and stupidity. Nor will economic* causes 
explain the rise of s 'i< nee. The g^aicial rule is that 
civilizations decay cxcc]U when they conic in con- 
tact with an alien civilization supciior to their own. 
There liave been only a few vety rare periods in 
human history, and a few very sparse regions, in 
which spontaneous progress has occurred. There 
must have been spontaneous progress in Egypt 
and Babylonia when they developed writing and 
agriculture; th^rc w^as spontan^oub progress in 
Greece: for about 200 years; and there has been 
spontaneous progress in Western Europe since the 
renaissance. But I do not think ^hcrc has been 
anything in the general sori'B conditions at these 
periods and places to distingu them from various 
other periods and places in wliich no progress has 
occurred. I cannot escape from the conchisicm that 

1C3 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

the great ages of progress have depended upon a 
small number of inc! ividuals of transcendent ability. 
Various social and political conditions were of course 
necessary for their effectiveness, but not sufficient^ 
for the conditions have often existed without the 
individuals, and in such cases progress has not 
occurred. If Kepler, Galileo, and Newion had died 
in infancy, the world in which we live would be 
vastly less different than it is from the world of the 
sixteenth century. This carries with it the moral 
that we cannot regard progicss as assured: it the 
supply of eminent individuals should happen to 
Liil, we should no doubt lapse into a condition of 
Byzantine immobility. 

There is one thing of great importance that we 
owe to the Middle Ages, and tliat is representative 
government. This institution is important because 
it has for the first time made it possible that the 
government of a large empire should appear to 
the governed to have been chosen by themselves. 
Where this system succeeds it produces a very high 
degree of political stability. It has, however, become 
evident in recent times that representative govern- 
ment is not a panacea applicable to all parts of the 
earth’s surface. Indeed its success seems to be mainly 
confined to the English-speaking nation'? and the 
French. 

Political cohesion by one means or another has, 
nevertheless, become the distinctive mark of Western 

164 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 

civilization as opposed to the civilizations of other 
regions. This is mainly due to patriotism, which, 
although it has its roots in Jewish particularism and 
Roman devotion to the State, is a very modern 
growth, beginning with the English resistance to 
the Armada, and finding its first literary expression 
in Shakespeare. Political cohesion based mainly 
upon patriot! m has been increasing steadily in th^ 
West ever since the end of the wars of religion, and 
is still increasing rapidly. In this respect J;\oan has 
proved an cxtraoidinaiiiy apt pupil. In old Ja])an 
there w'erc tuihuhnt i(‘udal t'arons, analogous to 
those who infi.' 4 cd Faiglaiul during ihe Wats of the 
Roses. But by the hd[i of firearms and gunpowder, 
which were brought to Japan by the ships that 
brought the Christian missionaries, the Shogun 
established internal peace; and .since 1868, by 
means of educaticai and the Shinto religion, ' the 
Japanese Government has succeeded in producing 
a nation as homogeneous and resolute and united 
as any nation of the West. 

The gn'alei degree of social cciicsion of the 
modern world is very largely due to changes in ihc 
art of war, rdl of which, from tiie invention of gun- 
powder onwards, have tended to increase the power 
of Governments. This process is probably by no 
means ended, but it has become complicated by a 
new factor: as armed forces become increasingly 
dependent upon industrial workers for their muni- 

165 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

tions, it becomes increasingly necessary for Govern- 
ments to secure the support of large sections of 
the population. Thi^ is a matter belonging to the 
technique of propaganda, in which it may be assumed 
that Governments will make rapid progress in the 
near future. 

The history of the last four hundred years in 
Europe has been one of simultaneous growth and 
decay : decay of the old synthesis represented by the 
Catholic Church, and growth of a new synthesis, as 
yet very incomplete, based hitherto on patriotism and 
science. It cannot be assumed that a scientific 
civilization transplanted to regions that have not our 
antecedents will have the same features that it has 
among us. Science grafted upon Christianity and 
democracy may produce effects entirely different 
from those that it produces when grafted upon 
ancestor worship and absolute monarchy. We owe 
to Christianity a certain respect for the individual, 
but this is a feeling towards whicli science is entirely 
neutral. Science of itself does not offer us any moral 
ideas, and it is doubtful what moral ideas are going 
to replace those that we owe to tradition. Tradition 
changes slowly, and our moral ideas are still in the 
main those that were appropriate to a pre-industrial 
regime; but it cannot be expected that this will 
continue to be the case. Gradually men will come to 
have thoughts that will be in conformity with their 
physical habits, and ideals nut inconsistent with 

i66 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 

their indubirial technique. The rate of change in 
ways of life has become very much more rapid than 
in any pn-vious period: the world has changed 
more in the Iasi one hundred and fifty years than in 
the previous four thousand. If Peter the Great could 
have had a conversation with Hammurabi they 
would have understood each olhei fairly well ; but 
neither of th^m could have understood a modern 
financial or industilal magnate. It is a curious fact 
that the new ideas of modern times have almost all 
been technical or schmdfie. Science has only lately 
begun to foster the of new moial ideas, 

thiough the lil;eration of bi'nevolence from the 
shackl(‘s of sup. rstitious ethical beliefs. Wherever a 
conventional code pn scribes the infliction of.udfer- 
ing (c.g. in the prohibition ol biUh contred), a 
kindlici cihi< is tliouglil to be immoral ; comequently 
those who allow knowledge to influence their clhirs 
arc held by the ap.istk ^ of ignorance to be wicked. 
It is, however, very doubtful whether a civili..ation 
so dependent upon scienc as ours is can, in the 
long run, succ\ vsfully prohibit form'j of knowjedge 
which arc capable of greatly increasing human 
hajq'^iness. 

The fact is that our traditional moral ideas are 
either purely individualistic like the idea of personal 
holiness or adapted to mu i snnilcr groups than 
those that are important in the modern world. One 
of the must noteworthy effects ol modern technique 

167 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

upon social life has been the greater degree to which 
men’s activities are organized into large groups, so 
that a man’s acts heive often a great effect upon 
some quite remote set of men with whom a group 
to which he belongs has relations of co-operalion 
or conflict. Small groups, such as the flimily, are 
diminishing in importance, and there is only one 
large group, namely the nation or the Slate, of 
which traditional morality takes any account. The 
result is that the effective religion of our age, in so 
far as it is not merely traditional, consists of patriotism. 
The average man is willing to sacrifice his life to 
patriotism, and feels this moral obligation so im- 
perative that no re\olt appears to him possible. 

It seems not improbable that the movement 
towards individual liberty which characterized the 
whole period from the renaissance to ninetcenth- 
( entury liberalism may be brought to a slop by the 
increased organization due to industrialism. The 
pressure of society upon the induidual msiy, in a 
new form, become as great as in barbarous com- 
munities, and nations may come increasingly to 
pride themselves upon collecthe rather than indi- 
\idual achievements. This is already the case in the 
United States ; men are proud of skyscrapers, 
railway stations, and bridges, rather than of poets, 
artists, or men of science. The same attitude per- 
vades the philosophy of the Soviet Government, 
It is true that, in both countries, a desire for 

1 68 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 


individual heroes persists : in Russia, personal dis* 
tinction belongs to Lenin; in America, to athletes, 
pugilists, and movie stars. But in both cases the 
heroes are either dead or trivial, and the serious 
work of the present is not thus dissociated with the 
names of eminent individuals. 

It is an interesting speculation to consider whether 
anything of high value can be produced by collccth^e 
rather than indiviciual effort, and whether such a 
civilization can be of the highest quality. [ do ncH 
think this c^uestion can be answered ofl-h ind. It 
is pobsible that, both in matters ot art and in matters 
of the intellect better results will be achieved co- 
operatively than have in the past been achieverl by 
individuals. In siience, there is aheacly a tenderic'y 
for work to be «isso(ia(ed with a luln^ralory rather 
tlian a single jicrson, and it ivould probably be good 
for science- it tliis tc-nclency bee arne more maikeci, 
since it would \n. moie co-operanon. But if im- 
portant work, of whatever sort, is to be collective, 
there will of ncccs‘^i(y be certain cup ailment of 
the individual: he will no longe^ br- able to be so 
self-assertive as men of genius have usually been 
hitherto. Christian morality entc-rs into this problem, 
but in an opposite sense to that usually supposed. It 
is generally thought that, because Christianity urges 
altruism and love of one’s neighbour, it is anli- 
individualistic. This, however, is a psychological 
Christianity appeals to the individual soul, 

169 


error. 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

and emphaMzes jiersonal salvation. What a man 
does for his neighbour, he has to do because that is 
what it is right for him to do, not because he is 
instinctively part of a larger group. Christianity in 
its origin, and still in its essence, is not political or 
even familial, and tends accordingly to make the 
individual more self-contained than nature made 
him. In the past, the family acted as a corrective 
to this individualism, but the family is decaying, 
and has not the hold over men's instincts that it 
used to have. What the family has lost, the nation 
has gained, for the appeal of the nation is to bio- 
logic al instincts which find little sc ope in an industrial 
world. From the point of view of stability, however, 
the nation is too narrow a unit. One could wish 
that men’s biological instincts would apply them- 
selves to the human race, but this seems hardly 
feasible psyc liolcgic ally, unless mankind as a whole 
is threatened by some grave external danger, such 
as a new disease or universal famine. These things 
licing unlikely, I do not see any psychological 
mc( hamsm by which world government could be 
bronghi about, except the conquest of the whole 
world by some one nation or group of nations. This 
does seem to be quite in the natural line of develop- 
ment, and may perhaps come about during the 
next one or two hundred years. In Western civiliza- 
tion, such as it is now, science and industrial tech- 
nique liave much more importance than all the 
170 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 

traditional factors put together. And it must not 
be supposed that the effect of these novelties upon 
human life has developed to anything like its full 
extent: things move more quirkly n(iW than they 
did in past ages, but they do not move so quickly 
as all that. The last event in human development 
comparable in importance to the gronlh of indus- 
trialism was the iruention of agriculture, and 
agriculture took many thousands of years to spread 
over the eartli’s surface, carrying with U, as it 
spread, a system of ideas and a way of life. "^I'hc 
agricultural way of lilc Las not even yet wholly 
conquered the aristocracies of the world, which, 
with characteristic conservatism, have remained 
largely in the hunting stage, as is cviclcni cd by our 
game laws. Similarly v/c may expect ihe agricultural 
outlook to .'>ur\ivc for many ages in backward 
countries and in backward scc'tic'Qs of the ])opulation. 

But it is not tlixs outlook that is distinctive of 
Western civilization, or of the offspring to wdiich 
it is giving birth in the Ea \ In America one finds 
even agricufture associatca with a semi-industrial 
mentality, because America ha^ not an indigenous 
peasantry. In Russia and China, the government 
has an industrial outlook, but ha^ t'^ contcnrl with a 
vast population of ignoran^^ peasants. In tliis con- 
nection, h(>wcvcr, it is impc) umt to remember that 
a population wljicli cannot read or wTite can be 
more quickly transformed by government action 

171 



IN PRAISL OF IDLENESS 

than a population such as one finds in Western 
Europe or America. By producing literacy and 
supplying the right kind of propaganda, the State 
can lead the rising generation to despise its elders to 
an extent which would astonish the most advanced 
American flapper; and thus a very complete change 
of mentality can be brought about within a genera- 
tion. In Russia this process is in full swing ; in China 
it is beginning. These two countries may therefore 
be expected to develop an unadulterated industrial 
mentalit)/ freed from tliose traditional elements which 
have survi\ed in the more slowly cle\ eloping West. 

Western i ivilization has cJiangcd and is changing 
with such rapidity thal many wdio feel an afTcction 
for its past find thenisehc s living in wliat seems an 
alien world. But the present is only brin^png out 
more clearly elements which have been present at 
any' rate since Roman times, and which have 
always distinguished Europe from India and C'hina. 
Energy, intolerance, and abstract intellect have 
distinguished the best ages in Europe from the best 
ages in the East. In literature and art, the Greeks 
may have been supreme, but their superiority to 
China is only a matter of degree. Of energy and 
intelligence I have already said enough; but of 
intolerance it is necessary to say something, since 
it has been a more persistent characteristic of 
Europe than many people realize. 

The Greeks, it is true, were less addicted to this 


172 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 

vice than their successors. Yet they put Socrates to 
death; and Plato, in spite of h\s acliniratiun for 
Socrates, held that the State should teach a religion 
which he himself regarded as false, and that men 
should be persecuted for throwing doubt upon it. 
Confucians, T'aoists, and Ihiddhists would not have 
sanctioned such a Hitlerite doctrine. Plato’s gentle- 
manly elcganre was not typically Kuii)])ean ; Kuro]ie 
has been warlike and (lexer, rather llian urhane. 
The distinctive note of Western ( i\iIi/atiou rather 

A 

to be found in Plutanh's account ol the defem e of 
Syracuse by inechankal < oiitrivcUices invented by 
Archimedes, 

One source of perwution, naiii ‘ly deinocratic 
envy, was well dcvelo’ped aino’ig the ^ ie(‘ks. 
Aristides was ostratized because his reputaiion for 
justice was aimcjyirig. Heraclilu.. oi' Ejilu'sus, who 
w^as not a democrat, exclaimed: "‘Ihe Ephesians 
would do well to hang themselves, every giowii 
man of them, and leave the city to beardless lads; 
for they have cast out He nodorus. the best man 
among them, saying, ‘We will have- none wl o is 
best among us; if there be any such, let him be so 
elsewhere and among others.' ” .Many of the un- 
pleasant features of our age cvistcd among the 
Greeks. They had Fascism, uationahsrn, militarism. 
Communism, bos.'^cs, and cc> [)t jioliticiaiis ; they 
had pugnacious vulgarhy and some religious perse- 
cution. They had good individuals, but so have we; 

173 



IN PKAISK OF IDLENESS 


then, as now, a consiclemble prrc enlage of the best 
individuals suflVred exile, imprisonment, or death. 
Greek civilization had, it is true, one very real 
superiority to ours, namely the inefficiency of the 
police, which enabled a larger proportion of decent 
people to escape. 

It was the comersion of Constantine to Chris- 
tianity that first gave occasion for the full expression 
of those persecuting impulses by which Europe has 
distinguished itself from Asia. During the last 
hundred and fifty years, it is true, there has been a 
bricl inter\al of liberalism, but now the white laces 
aie ic\erting to the theological bigotry which the 
Christians took over from the Jews. The Jews first 
in\cntcd the nothm that only one religion could be 
tiue, bu. they had no wish to convert all the world 
to it, and therefore only persecuted other Jews. The 
Christians, retaining the Judaic belief in a special 
rc\ elation, added to it the Roman desire for world- 
wide dominion and the Greek taste for metaphysical 
subtleties. The combination produced the most 
fiercely persecuting religion that the world has yet 
known. In Japan and China, Buddhism was peace- 
ably accepted and allowed to exist along with 
Shinto and Confucianism; in the Mohammedan 
world, Christians and jew^s were not molested so 
long as they paid the tribute; but throughout 
Christendom death was the u'^ual penally for even 
the smallest deviation from orthodoxy. 


*74 



WESTERN CIVILIZATION 

'^With those who dislike (he intolerance of Fascism 
and Communism I have no dis.u^rccmciit, unless 
they regard it as a departure from Eun)pcan 
tradition. Those of us wh(» feci stifled in an atmo- 
sphere of persecuting governmental orthodoxy would 
have fared little better in most previous ages of 
Europe than in modern Russia or Germany. If 
W'c could be ^ransporied into the past by niagi^ 
should we find Spaita an improvement on those 
modern countries? Should we have liked tc. live in 
societies which, like those of Europe in the sixteenth 
century, put men to death for not believing in the 
occurrence of witchcraft? Could we have endured 
early New England, or admired Pizarro’s treat nient 
of the Incas? Should we have enjoyed Renaissaive 
Germany, where 100,000 witches were burnt in a 
century? Should we have liked eightecnth-cenfury 
America, where leading Boston divines attributed 
earthquakes in Massachusetts to the impiety of 
lightning-rods? In the nineteenth century, should 
w^e have sympathized with Pope Pius ix when he 
refused to have anything to do with the Society for 
the Prevention of Cruelty to Aniinals on the ground 
that it is heretical to believe that man has any 
duties to the lower animals? I am afraid Europe, 
however intelligent, has always been rather horrid, 
except in the brief period be v>een 1848 and 1914. 
Now, unfortunately, Europeans are reverting to 
type. 



IX 


ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM^ 

Any person who visits the Universities of the Western 
world is liable to be struck by the fact that the 
intelligent young of the present day are cynical to 
a far greater extent than was the case formerly. 
This is not true of Russia, India, China, or Japan; 
I believe it is not the case in Czechoslov akia, Jugo- 
slavia, and Poland, nor by any means universally 
in Germany, but il certainly is a notable charac- 
teristic Oi intelligeiu youth in Ihigland, France, and 
the United States. To understand why youth is 
cynical in the West, we must also understand why 
it is not cynical in the East. 

Young men in Russia are not cynical because 
they accept, on the w^hole, the Communist philo- 
sophy, and they have a great country full of natural 
resources, ready to be exploited by the help of 
intelligence. The young have therefore a career 
before them which they feel to be worth while. 
You do not have to consider the ends of life when 
in the course of creating Utopia you arc laying a 
pipe-line, building a railway, or teaching peasants 
to use Ford tractors simultaneously on a four- mile 
front. Consequently the Russian youth are vigorous 
and filled with ardent beliefs. 

1 Written in 1929. 

176 



ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 


In India the fundamental belief of the earnest 
-young is in the wickedness of England : from this 
premiss, as from the existence of Descartes, it is 
possible to deduce a whoh* philosophy. From the 
fact that England is Uhr'slian, it follows that 
Hinduism or Mohainmt danism, as the case may be, 
is the only true religion. I'yom ihe fact that England 
is capitalistic and industrial, it follows, according 
to the temperament ol the logician concerned, either 
that everybody ought to spin with a spinning-wheel, 
or that protcctKc duties ought to be imj)oscd to 
develop native inruistiialism and capitalism as the 
only weapons with which to combat those of the 
British. From the fad that the British hold India 
by physical force, it follows that only n^oral force 
is admirable. Tht persecution of nationalist activities 
in India is just sufficiLUt to make them heroic, and 
not sufficient to nu them seem futile. In this way 
the Anglo-Indians save the intelligent youth of India 
from the blight oi* cynicism. 

In China hatred ol Engl md has also played its 
part, but a much smaller part than in India because 
the English have never conquered the country. The 
Chinese youth combine patriotism v/illi a genuine 
enthusiasm lor Occidentalism, in t'U kind of way 
that was common in Japai years ago. They 

want the Chinese people to be enlightened, tree 
and prosperous, and they have their work cut out 
to produce this result. Their ideals are, on the whole, 

177 


M 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

those of the nineteenth century, which in China 
have not yet begun to seem antiquated. Cynicism 
in China was associated with the officials of the 
Imperial regime and survived among the warring 
militarists who have distracted the country since 
igii, but it has no place in the mentality of the 
modern intellectuals. 

In Japan the outlook of young intellectuals is not 
unlike that which prevailed on the Continent of 
Europe between 1815 and 1848 The watchwords 
of Libel alism arc still potent . parliamentary govern- 
ment, liberty of the subject, free thought and free 
speech. The struggle for these against traditional 
feudalism and autocracy is quite sufficient to keep 
young men busy and enthusiastic. 

To the sophisticated youth of the West all this 
ardour seems a trifle crude. He is firmly persuaded 
that having studied everything impartially, he has 
seen through everything and found that there is 
“ nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting 
moon.” There are, of course, plenty of reasons for 
this in the teachings of the old. I do not think 
these reasons go to the root of the matter, for in 
other circumstances the young react against the 
teaching of the old and achieve a gospel of their 
own. If the Occidental youth of the present day 
react only by cynicism, there must be some special 
reason for this circumstance. Not only are the young 
unable to believe what they are told, but they seem 

178 



ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 


also unable to believe anything else. This is a 
peculiar state of affairs, which deserves investigation. 
Let us first take some of the old ideals one by one 
and see why they no longer inspire the old loyalties. 
We may enumerate among such ideals: religion, 
country, progress, beaut) , truth What is urong with 
these in the eyes of the young.'* 

Religion.— 'iat trouble here is partly mtelleetuai, 
partly social. For intellectual reasons few able men 
have now the same intensity of leligious belief as 
was possilde for, say, St. Thomas Aquinas. The 
God of most moderns is a little vague, and apt to 
degenerate into a Life Force or a “})owcr not our- 
selves that makes for righteousness.’’ Even bedievers 
arc concerned much more with the elfects of religion 
in this world than with that other world that they 
profess to believe in; tliey are not nearly so sure 
that this wa)rld w rr-^ated for the glory of God 
as they are that God is a useful hypothesis for 
improving this world. By subordinating God to the 
needs of this sublunary li they cast suspicion 
upon the genuineness of their Iriith. They seem to 
think that God, like the Sabbath, was made foi 
man. There are also sociological reasons for not 
accepting the Churches as tlic ba>js of a modern 
idealism The Churches, -ougli their endow- 
ments, have become bound up with the defence of 
property. Moreover, they are connected with an 
oppressive ethic, which crmclemns many pleasures 

179 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


that to the young appear harmless and inflicts many 
tormentwS that to the sceptical appear unnecessarily 
(Tuel. I have known earnest young men who accepted 
wholeheartedly the teaching of Christ; they found 
themselves in opposition to official Christianity, 
outcasts and victims of persecution, quite as much 
as if they had been militant atheists. 

Country . — Patriotism has been in many times and 
places a passionate belief to which the best minds 
could give full assent. It was so in England in the 
time of Shakespeare, in Germany in the time of 
Fichte, in Italy in the time of Mazzini. It is so still 
in Poland, China, and Outer Mongolia. In the 
Western nations it is still immensely powerful: it 
controls politics, public expenditure, military j)re- 
parations, and so on. But the intelligent youth are 
unable to accept it as an adequate ideal; they 
perceive that it is all very well for oppressed nations, 
but that as soon as an oppressed nation achieves its 
I’rcedom, the nationalism which was formerly heroic 
bcTomes oppressive. The Poles, who had the sym- 
pathy of idealists ever since Maria Teresa “wept 
but took,” have used their freedom to organize 
oppression in Ukrainia. The Irish, upon whom the 
British had inflicted chilization for eight hundred 
years, have ii^cd their freedom to pass laws pre- 
venting the publication of many good books. The 
^pcctacle of the Poles murdering Ukrainians and 
ihe Irish murdering literature makes nationalism 
i8o 



ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 

seem a somewhat inadequate ideal c\cn for a small 
nation But when it coints to a po^^(llul iialjon, the 
arsrument is even stronirfr 1 lu TnaU ol VMsaillcs 
was not very encobiat^inf; to th wl o had had 
th( lurk not to bt killvd in dtiuidint^ the ideaK 
which their rulers Iv traced riiO'JC who daniu; tht 
war averred that tluv wcu coxnbaLin^ militarism 
became at Us <orKlu ion the leading milUirists in 
their respcctue com liK<. S ah facts hd^r in idc it 
obvious to all int( 11 nt voung men that patMOti in 
is the chicfcuisc of our age and will Ining civiliMlion 
to an end it it c miK»t b mUigatcd 

Progress I his is a ninctcuith-c entury iHc al which 
has too much Bal b»t ibout it for the sophisticated 
youth Measi icable profit ss is ncce saiily in nmm- 
portdiU thinu,s^ such as the number jf motor-cars 
made, or the number of peanuts consumed The 
really important things are not nuasurcable and 
are thercfoic not si U ibJc for the methods of the 
booster Moreover, many modern invcnUons tend 
to make people sillv I iriu it instance the radio, 
the talkies, and jioisoii gas ohakespeare measured 
the excellence ol an age by Us s’ylc in poctiy (see 
Sonnet ^x^n), but this mode of measurement is out 
of elat 

j — There is somethnu^ thai sounds old- 
fashicmcd aboi t beauty, tho Jt is hud to say 
why A iiioelc rn painter would be ineh<^>‘nant if he 
were accused of seeking beauty Most aitists nowa« 

lOi 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

days appear to be inspired by some kind of rage 
against the world so that they wish rather to give 
significant pain than to afford serene satisfaction. 
Moreover many kinds of beauty require that a man 
should take himself more seriously than is possible 
for an intelligent modern. A prominent citizen of 
a small city State, such as Athens or Florence, 
could without difliculty feel himself important. The 
earth was the centre of the Universe, man was the 
purpose of creation, his own city showed man at 
his best, and he himself was among the best in 
his own city. In such circumstances Aeschylus or 
Dante could take his own joys or sorrows seriously. 
He could feel that the emotions of the individual 
matter, and that tragic occurrences dcscive to be 
celebrated in immortal verse. But the modem man, 
when misfortune assails him, is conscious of himsc If 
as k unit in a statistical total; the past and the 
future stretch before him in a dreary procession of 
trivial defeats. Man himself appears as a somewhat 
ridiculous strutting animal, shouting and fussing 
during a brief interlude between infinite silences. 
“Unaccommodated man is no more but such a 
poor, bare, lorked animal,” says King Lear, and the 
idea drives him to madness because it is unfamiliar. 
But to the modern man the idea is lamiliar and drives 
him only to triviality. 

Trul/i . — In old days truth was absolute, eternal 
and superhuman. Myself when young accepted this 

182 



ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 

view and devoted a misspent youth to the search 
for truth. But a whole host of enemies have arisen 
to slay truth: praj^malism, beluuiouiism, psycho- 
loc;ism, rclativity-ph\ sic s Galileo and the Inquisi- 
tion disagreed as to whcllier the earth went round 
the sun or the sun went lound the earlh. Both 
agreed in thinking that Ihcie was a great diflcrence 
between these two opinions The point on wliidi 
they agreed was the one on which they were both 
mistaken: the dineicmc is only one of Wv)id^. In 
old days it was pos^.i!)ie to woidiip truth; indeed 
the sincerity ol the »rship was demon iiated by 
the practice^ ol human ‘ acidic c but it is dilhcult 
to worship a mcuclv human and Tciatlvc truth. Ihc 
law ol gra\ilalion, accoiding to ialdin>»lon, is only 
a convenient ronventioii of incasuu ment. It is not 
truer than v*lhcT views, any inoic than the mctiic 
system is tiuer than fc et and yards. 

Nature and Naiiur .cOcs lay lud in niRhl j 

God said, “Lc-tNcvvtoa tir/* and iiirasuinnrnt was f inlUat^d. 

This sentiment seems hif k ig in sublimity. When 
Spino/a believed anything, he con^'JcT^d the l he 
was cnjcjying the inlclleu tual love of God. llie 
modern man believes either with Maix ilia, he is 
swayed by economic motives, c. with 1 rc ud that 
some sexual motive underlies his belief m the 
exponential theoiein or in i. v distiibutioii of launa 
in the Red Sea. In neither ejsc can he enjoy 
Spinoza’s exaltation. 


183 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 


So far we have been considering modern cynicism 
in a rationalistic manner, as something that has 
intellectual causes. Belief, however, as modern 
psychologists are never wxary of telling us, is seldom 
determined by rational motives, and the same is 
(rue of disbelief, though sceptics often overlook this 
fact. The causes of any widespread scepticism are 
likely to be sociological rather than intellectual. 
The main cause always is comfort without power. 
The holders of power are not cynical, since they 
are able to enforce iheir ideals. Victims of oppression 
are not cynical, since they are filled with hate, and 
liate, like any other strong passion, brings with it 
a train of attendant beliefs. Until the advent of 
education, democracy, and mass production, intel- 
lectuals had everywhere a considerable influence 
upon the march of affairs, which was by no means 
diminislied if their heads were cut off. The modern 
intellectual finds himself in a quite different situa- 
tion. It is by no means difficult for him to obtain 
a fat job and a good income provided he is willing 
to sell his services to the stupid rich either as pro- 
pagandist or as Court jester. The effect of mass 
production and elementary education is that stupid- 
ity is more firmly entrenched than at any other 
time since the rise of civilization. When the Czarist 
Government killed Lenin’s brother, it did not turn 
Lenin into a cynic, since hatred inspired a hfclong 
activity in which he was finally successful. But in 
184 



ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 

the more solid countries of the West there is seldom 
such potent cause for haired, or such opportunity 
of spec tacular revenge. The work of the intellectuals 
is ordered and paid for by Governments or rich 
men, whose aims probably seem absurd, if not 
pernicious, to the intellectuals concerned. But a 
dash of cynicism enables them to adjust their con- 
sciences to the situation. There are, it is true, some 
activities in which wholly admirable work is desired 
by the powers that be; the chief of these is science, 
and the next is public architecture in America. 
But if a man's education has been literary, as is 
still too often the case, he finds himself at the age 
of twenty-two with a considerable skill that he 
cannot exercise in any manner that appears impor- 
tant to himself. Men of science are not cynical even 
in the West, because they can exercise their best 
brains with the full approval of the community; 
but in this they are exceptionally fortunate among 
modern intellectuals. 

If this diagnosis is right, mode in cynicism cannot 
be cured merely by preaching, or by putting 
better ideals before the young than those that their 
pastors and masters fish out from the rusty armoury 
of outworn superstitions. The cure will only come 
when intellectuals can find a career that cnibodies 
their creative impulses. I do not see any prescrip- 
tion except the old one advocated by Disraeli: 
“Educate our masters.” But it will have to be a 

185 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

more real education than is commonly given at 
the present day to either proletarians or plutocrats, 
and it will have to be an education taking some 
account of real cultural values and not only of the 
utilitarian desire to produce so many goods that 
nobody has time to enjoy them. A man is not 
allowed to practise medicine unless he knows some- 
thing of the human body, but a financier is allowed 
to operate freely without any knowledge at all of 
the multifarious effects of his activities, with the 
sole exception of the effect upon his bank account. 
How pleasant a world would be in which no man 
was aIk)^ved to operate on the Stock Exchange 
unless he could pass an examination in economics 
and Greek poetry, and in which politicians were 
obliged to have a competent knowledge of history 
and modern novels ! Imagine a magnate confronted 
with the question : “If you were to make a corner 
in wheat, what effect would this have upon German 
poetry?” Causation in the modern world is more 
complex and remote in its ramifications than it 
ever was before, owing to the increase of large 
organizations; but those who control these organi- 
zations are ignorant men who do not know the 
hundredth part of the consequences of their actions. 
Rabelais published his book anonymously for fear 
of losing his University post. A modern Rabelais 
would never write the book, because he would be 
aware that his anonymity would be penetrated by 
186 



ON YOUTHFUL CYNICISM 

the perfected methods of publicily. TJic rulers ol 
the world have always been slupid, but have not 
in the past been so powerful as liicy are now. It is 
therefore more important than it used to be to find 
some way of secuiing that they shall be intelligent. 
Is this problem insoluble? I do not think so, but I 
should be the last to maintain that it is easy. 


187 



MODERN HOMOGENEITY! 


The European traveller in America — at least if I 
may judge by myself — ^is struck by two peculiarities ; 
first the extreme similarity of outlook in all parts 
of the United States (except the old South), and 
secondly the passionate desire of each locality to 
prove that it is peculiar and different from every 
other. The second of these is, of course, caused by 
the first. Every place wishes to have a reason for 
local pride, and therefore cherishes whatever is 
distinctive in the way of geography or history or 
tradition. The greater the uniformity that in fact 
exists, the more eager becomes the search for differ- 
ences that may mitigate it. The old South is in 
fact quite unlike the rest of America, so unlike that 
one feels as if one had arrived in a different country. 
It is agricultural, aristocratic, and retrospective, 
whereas the rest of America is industrial, demo- 
cratic, and prospective. When I say that America 
outside the old South is industrial, I am thinking 
even of those parts that are devoted almost wholly 
to agriculture, for the mentality of the American 
agriculturist is induslrial. He uses much modern 
machinery; he is intimately dependciu upon the 



MODERN HOMOGENEITY 

railway and the telephone; he is very conscious 
of the distant markets to which his products are 
sent; he is in fact a capitalist who might just as 
well be in some other business. A peasant, as he 
exists in Europe and Asia, is practically unknown 
in the United States. This is an immense boon to 
America, and perhaps its most important superiority 
as compared to the Old World, for the peasant 
everywhere is cruel, avaricious, conservative, and 
inefficient. I have seen oranne groves in Sicily^ and 
orange roves in California; the contrast rejjrescnts 
a period of about two thousand years. Orange 
groves in Sicily are remote from trains and ships; 
the trees are old and gnarled and beautiful; the 
methods arc those of classical antiquity. The men 
arc ignorant and semi-savage, mongrel descendants 
of Roman slaves and Arab invaders ; what they lack 
in intelligence towards trees they make up for by 
cruelty to animals. With moral degradation and 
economic incompetence goes an instinctive sense 
of beauty which is pcr]>ctuall> reminding one of 
Theocritus and the myih about the Carden of the 
licq^eiides. In a CalifiTiiian oraxige grove the 
Garden of the Hesperides seems very remote. The 
trees are all exactly alike, carefully tended and at 
the right distance apart. The oranges, it is true, 
are not all exactly of the same size, but careful 
machinery sorts them so that automatically all those 
in one box are exactly similar. They travel along 

189 



IN PRAISK OF IDLENESS 

with suitable things being done to them by suitable 
machines at suitable points until they enter a suit- 
able refrigerator car in which they travel to a 
suitable market. The machine stamps the words 
“Sunkist” upon them, but otherwise there is nothing 
to suggest that nature has any part in their produc- 
tion. Even the climate is artificial, for when there 
would otherwise be frost, the orange grove is kept 
artificially warm by a pall of smoke. The men 
engaged in agriculture of this kind do not feel 
themselves, like the agriculturists of former times, 
the patient servants of natural forces; on the con- 
trary, they feel themselves the masters, and able to 
bend natural forces to their will. There is therefore 
not the same difference in America as in the Old 
World between the outlook of industrialists and that 
of agriculturists. The important part of the environ- 
ment in America is the human part ; by comparison 
the non-human part sinks into insignificance. I was 
constantly assured in Southern California that the 
climate turned people into lotus caters, but t con- 
fess I saw no evidence of this. They seemed to me 
exactly like the people in Minneapolis or Winnipeg, 
although climate, scenery, and natural conditions 
were as diflerent as possible in the two regions. 
When one considers the difference between a Nor- 
wegian and a Sicilian, and compares it with the 
lack of difftrciue between a man from (say) North 
Dal^o^i and a man from Southern California, one 
190 



MODERN HOMOGENEITY 


realizes the immense revolution in human affairs 
which has been brought about by man’s becoming 
the master instead of the slave of his physical 
environment. Norway and Sicily both have ancient 
traditions ; they had pre-Christian religions embody- 
ing men’s reactions to the climate, and when 
Christianity came it inevitably took very different 
forms in the two countries. The Norwegian feared 
ice and snow; the Sicilian feared lava and earth- 
quakes. Hell was invented in a southern climate; 
if it had l^een invented in Norway, it would have 
been cold. But neither in North Dakota nor in 
Soutliern California is Hell a climatic condition: 
in botli it is a stringency on the money market. 
This illustrates the unimportance of climate in 
modern life. 

America is a man-made world; moreover it is 
a world which man has made by means of machinery. 
I am thinking not only of the physical environment, 
but also and quite as much of thoughts and emotions. 
Consider a really stirring murder: the murderer, 
it is true, may be primitive in his methods, but 
those who spread the knowledge of his deed do so 
by means of all the latest resources of science. 
Not only in the great cities, but in Icu.cly farms 
on the prairie and in mining car ips in the Rockies, 
the radio disseminates all the latest information, 
so that half the topics of conversation on a given 
day are the same in every household throughout 


191 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

the country. As I was crossing the plains in the 
train, endeavouring not to hear a loud-speaker 
bellowing advertisements of soap, an old farmer 
came up to me with a beaming face and said, 
“Wherever you go nowadays you can’t get away 
from civilization.” Alas ! How true ! I was endeavour- 
ing to read Virginia Woolf, but the advertisements 
won the day. 

Uniformity in the physical apparatus of life 
would be no grave matter, but uniformity in matters 
of thought and opinion is much more dangerous. 
It is, however, a quite inevitable result of modern 
inventions. Production is cheaper when it is unified 
and on a large scale than when it is divided into a 
number of small units. This applies quite as much 
to the production of opinions as to the production 
of pins. The principal sources of opinion in the 
present day are the schools, the Churches, the Press, 
the cinema, and the radio. The teaching in the 
elementary schools must inevitably become more 
and more standardized as more use is made of 
apparatus. It may, I think, be assumed that both 
the cinema and the radio will play a rapidly in- 
creasing part in school education in the near future. 
This will mean that the lessons will be produced 
at a centre and will be precisely the same wherever 
the material prepared at this centre is used. Some 
Churches, I am told, send out every week a model 
sermon to all the less educated of their clergy, who, 


192 



MODERN HOMOGENEITY 


if they arc governed by the ordinary laws of human 
nature, arc no doubt grateful for being saved the 
trouble of composing a sermon of their own. This 
model sermon, of course, deals with some burning 
topic of the moment, and aims at arousing a given 
mass emotion throughout the length and breadth 
of the land. The same thing applies in a higher 
degree to the Press, which receives everywhere the 
same telegraphic news and is syndicated on a large 
scale. Reviews of my books, I find, are, except in 
the best newspapers, verbally the same from New 
York to San Francisco, and from Maine to Texas, 
except thal they become shorter as one travels from 
the north-east to the south-west. 

Perhaps the greatest of all forces for uniformity 
in the modern world is the cinema, since its influence 
is not confined to America but penetrates to all 
parts of the world, except the So\dct Union, which, 
however, has its own different uniformity. The 
cinema embodies, broadly speaking, Hollywood’s 
opinion of what is liked in the Middle West. Our 
emotions in regard to love and *aarriage, birth and 
death are becoming standardized according to this 
recipe. To the young of all lauds Hollywood repre- 
sents the last word in modernity, displaying both 
the pleasures of the rich and the methods to be 
adopted for acquiring riches. I i]>pose the talkies 
will lead before long to the adoption of a universal 
language, which will be that of Hollywood. 

N 193 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

It is not only among the comparatively ignorant 
that there is uniformity in America. The same thing 
applies, though in a slightly less degree, to culture. 
I visited book shops in every part of the country, 
and found everywhere the same best-sellers promi- 
nently displayed. So far as I could judge, the cul- 
tured ladies of America buy every year about a 
dozen books, the same dozen everywhere. To an 
author this is a very satisfactory state of affairs, 
provided he is one of the dozen. But it certainly 
does mark a difference from Europe, where there 
are many books with small sales rather than a few 
with large sales. 

It must not be supposed that the tendency towards 
uniformity is cither wholly good or wholly bad. It 
has great advantages and also great disadvantages : 
its chief advantage is, of course, that it produces 
a population capable of peaceable co-operation; 
its great disadvantage is that it produces a popula- 
tion prone to persecution of minorities. This latter 
defect is probably tcm])orary, since it may be 
assumed that before long there will be no minorities. 
A great deal depends, of course, on how the unifor- 
mity is achieved. Take, for example, what the 
schools do to southern Italians. Southern Italians 
have been distinguished throughout history for 
murder, graft, and aesthetic sensibility. The Public 
Schools elfec tively cure them of the last of these 
three, and to that extent assimilate them to thf 


194 



MODERN HOMOGENEITY 


native American population, but in regard to the 
other two distinctive qualities, I gather that the 
success of the schools is less marked. This illustrates 
one of the dangers of uniformity as an aim : good 
qualities arc easier to destroy than bad ones, and 
therefore uniformity is most easily achieved by 
lowering all standards. It is, of course, clear that 
a country with a large foreign population must 
endeavour, through its schools, to assimilate the 

children of immigrants, and therefore a certain 

.... . 

degree of Amcric anizaiion is inevitable. It is, how- 
ever, unf( rtunatc that such a large part of this 
process should be ctTcctcd by means of a somewhat 
blatant nationalism. America is already the strongest 
country in the world, and its preponderance is 
continually increasing. This fact naturally inspires 
fear in Europe, and the fear is increased by every- 
thing suggesting militant nationalism. It may be 
the destiny of America i > teach pclitical good sense 
to Europe, but I am afraid that the pupil is sure to 
prove refractory. 

With the tendency towards unubrmity in America 
there goes, as it seems to me, a mistaken conception 
of democracy. It seems to be generally held in the 
United States th^it democracy requires all men to 
be alike, and that, if a man is in any way different 
from anothei, he is “setting himsv u up"’ as supcrioi 
to that other. France is quite as democratic as 
America, and yet this idea does not exist in France. 


*95 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

The doctor, the lawyer, the priest, the public official 
are all difierent types in France; each profession 
has its own ti aditions and its own standards, although 
it does not set up to be superior to other professions. 
In Ameiica all professional men arc assimilated in 
type to the business man. It is as though one should 
decree that an orchestia should consist only of 
violins. There d » s not seem to be an adequate 
understanding ol the fact that society should be a 
pattern or an organism, in which diffirent organs 
play different parts. Imagine the eye and the car 
quarrelling as to whether it is better to see or to 
hear, and deciding that each would do neither since 
neither could do both. This, it seems to me, would 
be democracy as undti stood in America. There is 
a strange envy of any kind of excellence which 
cannot be universal, except, of course, in the sphere 
of athletics and sport, where aristocracy is enthusi- 
astically acclaimed. It seems that the avcr<age 
American is more capable of humility in regard to 
his muscles than in regard to his brains; perhaps 
this is because his admiration for muscle is more 
profound and genuine than his admiration of brains. 
The flood of poj^ular scientific books in America 
is inspired partly, though of course not wholly, by 
the unwillingness to admit that there is anything 
in science which only experts can understand, lire 
idea that a special training may be necessary to 
understand, say, the theory of relativity, causes a 
196 



MODERN HOMOGENEITY 


sort of irritation, although nobody is irritated by 
the fact that a special training is necessary in order 
to be a first-rate football player. 

Achieved eminence is perhaps more admired in 
America than in any other country, and yet the 
road to certain kinds of eminence is made very 
(hnicult for the young, because people are intolerant 
of any eccentricity or anything that could be called 
“setting one’s self up”, provided the person concerned 
is not already labelled “eminent.” Consequaitly 
many of the finished types that are most admired 
are difficult to produce at home and have to be 
imported from Europe. This fact is bound up with 
standardization and uniformity. Exceptional merit, 
especially in artistic directions, is bound to meet 
with great obstacles in youth so long as everybody 
is expected to conform outwardly to a pattern set 
by the successful executive. 

Standardization, though it may have disadvan- 
tages for the exceptional individual, probably 
increases the happiness of the average man, since 
he can utter his thoughts with a certainty that 
they will be like the thoughts of his hearer. More- 
over it promotes national cohesion, and makes 
politics less bitter and violent than where more 
marked differences exist. I do net think it is possible 
to strike a balance ol’ gains and losses, but I think 
the standardization which now exists in Amciica is 
likely to exist throughout Europe as the world 


197 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

becomes more mechanized. Europeans, therefore, 
who find fault with America on this account should 
realize that they are finding fault with the future 
of their own countries, and are setting themselves 
against an evitable and universal trend in civiliza- 
tion. Undoubtedly internationalism will become 
easier as the differences between nations diminish, 
and if once internationalism were established, social 
cohesion would become of enormous importance 
for preserving internal peace. There is a certain 
lisk, which cannot be denied, of an immobility 
analogous to that of ihe late Roman Empire. But 
as ag<iinst this, we may set the revolutionary forces 
of modern science and modern technique. Short 
of a universal intellectual decay, these forces, whicli 
are a new feature in the modern world, will make 
immobility impossible, and prevent that kind of 
stagiiation which has overtaken great empires in 
the past. Arguments from history are dangerous to 
apply to the present and the future, because of the 
complete change that science has introduced. I see 
therefore no reason for undue pessimism, however 
standardization may offend the tastes of those who 
are unaccustomed to it. 


198 



XI 


MEN VERSUS INSECTS^ 

Amid wars and rumours of wars, while “disarma- 
ment” proposals and non-aggression pacts threaten 
the human race with unprecedented disaster, 
another conflict, perhaps even more important, is 
receiving much less notice than it deserves — I qiean 
the conflict between men and insects. 

We are accustomed to being the Lords of Creation; 
we no longer have occasion, like the cave men, to 
fear lions and tig ts, mammoths and wild boars. 
Except against each other, we feel ourselves safe. 
But while big animals no longer threaten our exist- 
ence, it is otherwise with small animals. Once before 
in the history of life on this planet, large animals 
gave place to small on^s. For many ages dinosaurs 
ranged unconcerned through swamp and forest, 
fearing nothing but each otlu ’ , not doubting the 
absoluteness of their empire. But they disappeared, 
to give place to tiny mammals — mice, small hedge- 
hogs, miniature horses no bigger than rats, and 
such-like. Why the dinosaurs died out is not known, 
but it is supposed to be because they had minute 
brains and devoted themselves to the growth of 
weapons of olfcnce in the shape of numerous horns. 


*99 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

However that may be, it was not through their line 
that life developed. 

The mammals, having com'" supreme, proceeded 
to grow big But the 1 iggeston land, thf‘ mammoth, 
is extinct, and the other large animals have grown 
rare, except man and those that he has domesticated. 
Man, by his intelligence, has succeeded in finding 
nourishment for a large population, in spite of his 
size. H(' is safe, except from th'^ little creatures — 
the insects and the micro-oi ganisms. 

Insects have an initial ad\ antage in their numbers. 
A small wood may easily contain as many ants as 
there are human beings in the whole world. They 
have another advantage in the fact that they eat 
our food before it is lipe for us. Many noxious 
insects which used to live only in some one com- 
paratively small region have been unintentionally 
transpoitcd by man to new envii oninents where 
they have done immense damage. Travel and trade 
are useful to insects as well as to micro-organisms. 
Yellow fever formerly existed only in West Africa, 
but was carried to the Western hemisphere by the 
slave trade. Now, owing to the opening up of Africa, 
it is gradually travelling eastward across that con- 
tinent. When it reaches the east coast it will become 
almost impossible to keej) it out c:>f India and China, 
where it may be expected to halve the population. 
Sle< ping sickness is an even more deadly African 
disease which is gradually spreading. 

Fortunately science has discoveied ways by which 


200 



MEN VERSUS INSECTS 

insect pests can be kept under. Most of them are 
liable to paiabites which kill so many that the sur- 
vivors cease to be a serious problem, and entomo- 
logists are engaged in studying and breeding such 
parasites. Oflicial reports of their activities arc 
lascinating; they are full of such sentences as: 
“He proceeded to Brazil, at the request of the 
planters of Trinidad, to search for the natural 
enemies of the sugar-cane Froghopper.” One would 
say that the sugar-cane Froghopper w^ould kave 
lilllr (hance in this ((»nust. Unlorlunately, so long 
as wd.r continues, all scientific knowledge is double- 
edged. For example, Professor Fritz Halier, who has 
just died, invented a process for the fixation of 
nitrogen. He intended it to increase the fertility 
of the soil, but the German Government used it 
for the manufacture of high explosives, and has 
recently exile d him foi jireferring manure to bofnbs. 
In the next great war, the scientists on either side 
will let loose pests on the crops of the other side, 
and it may prove scarcely possible to destroy the 
pests when peace comes. The more we know, the 
more harm we can do each other. If human beings, 
in their rage against each other, invoke the aid of 
insects and micro-organisms, as they ccitainly will 
do if there is another big war, it is by no means 
unlikely that the insects will rcmcun the sole ultimate 
victors. Perhaps, from a cosmic point of view, this 
is •'ot to be regretted; but as a human being I 
cannot help heaving a sigh over my own species. 


201 



XII 


EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE 

Any serious educational theory must consist of two 
parts : a conception of the ends of life, and a science 
of psychological dynamics, i.e. of the laws of mental 
change. Two men who differ as to the ends of life 
cannot hope to agree about education. The educa- 
tional machine, throughout Western civilization, is 
dominated by two ethical theories : that of Christi- 
anity, and that of nationalism. These two, when 
taken seriously, are incompatible, as is becoming 
evident in Germany. For my part, I hold that, 
where they differ, Christianity is preferable, but 
where they agree, both are mistaken. The conception 
which I should substitute as the purpose of education 
is civilization, a term which, as I mean it, has a 
definition which is partly individual, partly social. 
It consists, in the individual, of both intellectual 
and moral qualities : intellectually, a certain mini- 
mum of general knowledge, technical skill in one’s 
own profession, and a habit of forming opinions 
on evidence; morally, of impartiality, kindliness, 
and a modicum of self-control. I should add a quality 
which is neither moral nor intellectual, but perhaps 
physiological ; zest and joy of life. In communities, 
civilization demands respect for law, justice as 


209 



EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE 

between man and man, purposes not involving 
permanent injury to any section of the human race, 
and intelligent adaptation of means to ends. 

If these are to be the purpose of education, it is 
a question for the science of psychology to consider 
what can be done towards realizing them, and, in 
particular, what degree of freedom is likely to prove 
most clfective. 

On the question of freedom in education there 
are at present three main schools of thought, deriving 
partly from dilfercnces as to ends and partly from 
differences in psychological theory. There are those 
who say that children should be completely free, 
however bad they may be; there are those who 
say they should ])e completely subject to authority, 
however good they may be; and there arc those 
who say they should be free, but in sjutc of freedom 
they should be always good. This last party is larger 
than it has any logical light to be; children, like 
adults, will not all be virtuous if they arc all free. 
The belief that liberty will ensui . moral perfection 
is a relic of Rousseauism, and would not survive a 
study of animals and babies. Those who hold this 
belief think that education should have no positive 
purpose, but should merely offer an environment 
suitable for spontaneous development. I cannot 
agree with this school, which Mcms to me too 
individualistic, and unduly indifferent to the impor- 
tance of knowledge. We live in communities which 


203 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

require co-operation, and it would be utopian to 
expect all the necessary co-operation to result from 
spontaneous impulse. The existence of a large popu- 
lation on a limited area is only possible owing to 
science and technique; education must, therefore, 
hand on the necessary minimum of these. The 
educators who allow most freedom are men whose 
^ucccss depends upon a degree of benevolence, 
scif-control, and trained intelligence which can 
hardly be generated where every impulse is left 
unchecked; their merits, therefore, are not likely 
to be perpetuated if their methods are undiluted. 
Education, viewed from a social standpoint, must 
be something more positive than a mere oppor- 
tunity for growth. It must, of course, provide this, 
but it must also provide a mental and moral equip- 
ment which children cannot acquire entirely for 
themselves. 

The arguments in favour of a great degree of 
freedom in education are derived not from man’s 
natural goodness, but from the effects of authority, 
both on those who suffer it and on those who 
exercise it. Those who are subject to authority 
become either submissive or rebellious, and each 
attitude has its drawbacks. 

The submissive lose initiative, both in thought 
and action; moreover, the anger generated by the 
feeling of being thwarted tends to find an outlet 
in bullying those who are weaker. That is why 

S04 



EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE 


tyraniiie.il institutions arc self-perpetuating: what 
a man has suflFered from his father he inflic ts upon 
his son, and the humiliations which he remembers 
having endured at his public school he pc-s es on to 
'‘natives” when he becomes an empirc-buiiuer. Thus 
an unduly authoritative education turns the pupils 
into timid tyrants, incapable of either claiming or 
tolerating originality in word or deed. The effect 
upon the educators is even worse: they tc.ad to 
become sadistic disciplinarians, glad to inspire 
terror, and content to inspire nothing else. "As 
these men represent knowhd c the pupils acf^uire 
a horror of knowledge, which, among the laiglish 
upper-class, is supposed to be pait ol human nature, 
but is ically part of the well-grounded hatred of the 
authoritarian pedagogue. 

Rebels, on the other hand, though they may be 
necessary, can hardly be just to what exists. More- 
over, there are many w /s of icbelling, and only a 
small minority of these are wise. Galileo was a lebcl 
and was wise; believers in the f.it-earlh theory arc 
equally rebels, but are foolish. There is a great 
danger in the tendency to suppose that oppo^^ition 
to authority is essentially meritorious and (hat 
unconventional opinions are bound to be correct: 
no useful purpose is sened by smashing lamp-posts 
or maintaining Shakespeare to L .o poet. Yet this 
excessive rebelliousness is often the effect that too 
much authority has on spirited pupils. And when 


205 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

rebels become educators, they sometimes encourage 
defiance in their pupils, for whom at the same time 
they are trying to produce a perfect environment, 
altliough these two aims are scarcely compatible. 

What is wanted is neither submissiveness nor 
rebellion, but good nature, and general friendliness 
both to people and to new ideas. These qualities 
are due in part to physical causes, to which old- 
fashioned educators paid too little attention; but 
they are due still more to freedom from the feeling 
of baffled impotence which arises when vital im- 
pulses are thwarted. If the young are to grow into 
friendly adults, it is necessary, in most cases, that 
they should feel their environment friendly. This 
requires that there should be a certain sympathy 
with the child s important desires, and not merely 
an attempt to use him for some abstract end such 
as the glory of God or the greatness of one’s country. 
And, in teaching, every attempt should be made to 
( ausc the jiupil to feel that it is worth his while to 
know^ what is being taught — at least when this is 
true. When the pupil co-operates willingly, he learns 
twice as fast and with half the fatigue. All these 
are \ alicl reasons for a very great degree of freedom. 

It is easy, however, to carry the argument too 
far. It is not desirable that children, in avoiding 
the vices of the slave, should acquire those of the 
aristocrat. Consideration for others, not only in 
great matters, but also in little everyday things, is 

!40b 



EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE 

an essential element in civilization, without which 
social life would be intolerable. I am not thinking 
of mere forms of politeness, such as saying “please” 
and “thank you” ; formal manners are most fully 
de\ eloped among barbarians, and diminish with 
every advance in culture. I am thinking rather of 
willingness to take a fair share of necessary work, 
to be obliging in small ways that save trouble on the 
balance. Sanity itself is a form of politeness and it is 
not desirable to give a ( hilcl a sense of omnipotence, 
or a belief that adults exist only to minister to the 
pleasures of the young# And those who disapprove 
of the existence of the idle rich are liardly consistent 
if they bring up their children without any sense 
that work is necessary, and without the habits tha" 
make continuous application possible. 

There is another rcjnsidcration to which some 
advocates of freedom attach too little importance. 
In a community of chilurcii which is left without 
adult interference there is a tyranny of the stronger, 
which is likely to be far more mutal than most 
adult tyranny. If two children of two or three 
years old are left to play together, they will, after 
a few fights, discover which is bound to be the 
victor, and the other will then becom.e a slave. 
Where the number of children is larger, erne or 
two acquire < omplete mastery, an - the others have 
far less liberty than they w^oulcl have if the adults 
intc^^cred to protect the weaker and less pugnacious. 

<3107 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

Consideration for others docs not, with most children, 
arise spontaneously, but has to be taught, and can 
hardly be taught except by the exercise of authority. 
This is perliaps the most important argument against 
the abdication of the adults. 

I do not think that educatois have yet solved the 
problem of combining the desiral)lc forms of freedom 
with the necessary minimum of moral training. 
The right solution, it must be admitted, is often 
made impossible by ])arcnts before the child is 
brought to an enli htcnej scliool. Just as psycho- 
analysts, from thcir clinical experience, conclude 
that wc are all mad, so the authorities in mo^icrn 
schools, from their contact with pupils whose parents 
have made them unmanageable, are disoosed to 
conclude that all children arc “diflicult” and all 
parents utterly foolish. Children who have been 
driven wild by parental tyranny (which often takes 
the form of solicitous affection) may require a longer 
or shorter period of complete liberty before they can 
view any adult without suspicion. But children who 
have been sensibly handled at home can bear to be 
checked in minor ways, so long as they feel that 
they are being helped in the ways that they tliem- 
sejves regard as important. Adults who like children, 
and are not reduced to a condition of nervous 
exhaustion by their company, can 'achieve a great 
deal in the way of discipline without ceasing to be 
regarded with friendly feelings by their pupils. 

9o3 



EDUCATION AND DISCIPLINE 

I think modern educational theorists are inclined 
to attach too much importance to the negative 
virtue of not interfering with children, and too 
little to the positive merit of enjoying their com- 
pany. If you have tjie sort of liking for children 
that many people have for horses or dogs, they 
will be apt to respond to your suggco.tions, and to 
accept prohibition^, perhaps with some good- 
humoured grumbling, but without resentment. It 
is no use to have the sort of liking that consistSvin 
regarding them as a field for valuable social 
endeavour, or- -what amounts to the same thing — 
as an outlet for power-impulses. No child will be 
grateful for an intercut in him that springs from 
the thought that he will have a vote to be secured 
for your party or a body to be sacrificed to king 
and country. The desirable sort '^f interest is that 
which consists in spontaneous pleasure in *the 
presence of children, without any ulterior purpose. 
Teachers who have this quality will seldom need 
to interfere with children’s freciiom, but will be 
able to do so, when necessary, without causing 
psychological damage. 

Uriforiunately, it is utterly impossible for over- 
worked teachers to preserve an instinctive; liking for 
children; ihey are bound to come to ftel towards 
them as the proverbial confectioner’s apprentice 
does towards macaroons. I do not think (hat educa- 
tion ought to be anyone’s whole profession: it 

?09 


o 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

should be undertaken for at most two hours a day 
by people whose remaining hours are spent away 
from children. The society of the young is fatiguing, 
especially when strict discipline is avoided. Fatigue, 
in the end, produces irritation, which is likely to 
express itself somehow, whatever theories the harassed 
teacher may have taught himself or herself to believe. 
The necessary friendliness cannot be preserved by 
self-control alone. But where it exists, it should be 
unnecessary to have rules in advance as to how 
‘‘naughty” children are to be treated, since impulse 
is likely to lead to the rigM decision, and almost 
any decision will be right if the child feels that you 
like him. No rules, however wise, arc a substitute 
for affection and tact. 


910 



STOICISM AND MENTAL HEALTH* 


By means of modem psychology, many cducalional 
problems wliich were fr)rmcrly tackled (very un- 
successfully) by sheer moral discipline arc now solved 
by more indirect but also more scientific methods. 
There is, perhaps, a tendency, especially among the 
less well-informed devotees of psycho-analysis, to 
think that iliere is no^longer any need of stoic self- 
command. I do not hold this view, and in the 
present essa} I wish to consider some of the situa- 
tions which make it necessary, and some of the 
methods by which it can be created in young 
people; also some of the dangers to be avoided in 
creating it. 

Let us begjn at once with the most difficult and 
most essential of the problems that call for stoicism: 
I mean. Death. There are vario, . ways of attempt- 
ing to cope with the fear of death. We may try to 
ignore it; we may never mention it, and always 
try to turn our thoughts in another direction when 
we find ourselves dwelling on it. This is the method 
of the butterfly people in Wells’s Time Machine. 
Or we may adopt the exactly opposite course, and 
meditate continually concerning the brevity of 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

human life, in the hope that familiarity will breed 
contempt ; this was the course adopted by Charles v 
in his cloister after his abdication. There was a 
Fellow of a Cambridge College who even went so 
far as to sleep with his coffin in the room, and who 
used to go out on to the College lawns with a spade 
to cut worms in two, saying as he did so: “Yah! 
you haven’t got me yet.” There is a third course, 
which has been very widely adopted, and that is, 
to persuade oneself and others that death is not 
death, but the gateway to a new and better life. 
These three methods, mingled in varying propor- 
tions, cover most people’s accommodations to the 
uncomfortable fact that we die. 

To each of these methods, however, there arc 
objections. The attempt to avoid thinking about an 
emotionally interesting subject, as the Freudians 
have pointed out in connection with sex, is sure 
to be unsuccessful, and to lead to various kinds of 
undesirable contortions. Now it may, of course, be 
possible, in the life of a child, to ward off knowledge 
of death, in any poignant form, throughout the 
earlier years. Whether this happens or not, is a 
matter of luck. If a parent or brother or sister dies, 
there is nothing to be done to prevent a child from 
acquiring an emotional awareness of death. Even 
if, by luck, the fact of death does not become vivid 
to a child in early years, it must do so sooner or 
later ; and in those who are quite unprepared, there 


212 



STOICISM AND MENTAL HEALTH 

is likely to be a serious loss of balance when this 
occurs. We must therefore seek to establish some 
attitude towards death other than that of merely 
ignoring it. 

The prru lice of brooding continually on death 
is at least equally liarmfiil. It is a mistake to think 
too exclusively aboui any one subject, more par- 
ticularly when our thinking cannot issue in action. 
Wc can, of course, act so as to postpone our own 
death, and within limits every normal person docs 
so. But we cannot prevent ourselves from dying 
ultimately; this is. thtrcforc, a profitless subject of 
meditation. Moreover, it tends to diminish a man’s 
interest in other people and events, and it is only 
objective interests that can preserve mental health. 
Fear of death makes a man feel himself the slave 
of external forces, and from a slave mentality no 
good result can follow. If, by meditation, a man 
could genuinely cure himself of the fear of death, 
he would cease to meditate on the subject; so long 
as it absorbs his thoughts, that .^roves that he has 
not ceased to fear it. This method, therefore, is no 
better than the other. 

The belief that death is a gateway to a better 
life oughl, logically, to prc\cui men [:cm feeling 
any fear of death. Fortunately h r the medical pro- 
fession, it does not in fact have lIus effect, except 
in a few rare instances. One does not find that 
believers in a future life are less afraid of illness or 


213 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

more courageous in battle than those who think 
that death ends all. The late F. W. H. Myers used 
to tell how he asked a man at a dinner table what 
he thought would happen to him when he died. 
The man tried to ignore the question, but, on being 
pressed, replied: “Oh well, I suppose 1 shall inherit 
eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn’t talk about 
such unpleasant sulyects.” The reason for this 
apparent inconsistency is, of course, that religious 
belief, in most people, exists only in the region of 
conscious thought, and has not succeeded in modi- 
fying unconscious mechanismG. If the fear of death 
is to be coped with successfully, it must be by some 
method which affects behaviour as a whole, not 
only that part of behaviour that is commonly called 
conscious thought. In a few instances, religious 
belief can effect this, but not in the majority of 
mankind. Apart from behaviouristic reasons, there 
arc two other sources of this failure : one is a certain 
doubt which persists in spite of fervent professions, 
and shows itself in the form of anger with sceptics ; 
the other is the fact that believers in a future life 
tend to emphasize, rather than minimize, the horror 
that would attach to death if their beliefs were 
unfounded, and so to increase fear in those who 
do not feel absolute cerlainty. 

What, then, shall we do with young people to 
adapt them to a world in which death exists? We 
have to achieve three objects, which are very diffi- 


214 



STOICISM AND MENTAL HEALTH 


cult to combine, (i) Wc must give them no feeling 
that death is a subject about which we do not wish 
to speak or to encourage them to think. If wc give 
them such a feeling, they will conclude that there 
is an interesting mysfery, and will think all the 
more. On this point, the familiar modern position 
on sex education is applicable. (2) We must never- 
theless so act as to prevent them, if we can, from 
thinking much or often on the matter of death ; 
there is the same kind of objection to such absorp- 
tion as to absorption in pornography, namely that 
it diminishes efficiency, prevents all-round develop- 
ment, and leads 10 conduct which is unsatisfactory 
both to the person concerned and to others. (3) We 
must not hope to create in anyone a satisfactory 
attitude on the subject of death by means of con- 
scious thought alone; more particularly, no good 
is done by beliefs intended to show that death is 
less terrible than it ot' Tw'se would be, when (as 
is usual) such beliefs do not penetrate below the 
level of consciousness. 

To give effect to these various objects, we shall 
have to adopt somewhat different methods accoid- 
ing to the experience of the child or young person. 
If no one closely connected with the child dies, it 
is fairly easy to secure an acceptance of death as 
a common fact, of no great cn • 'onal interest. So 
long as death is abstract and impersonal, it should 
be mentioned in a matter-of-fact voice, not as some- 


215 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

thing terrible. If the child asks, “Shall I die?”, one 
should say, “Yes, but probably not for a long time.” 
It is important to preveiit any sense of mystery 
about death. It should be brought into the same 
category with the wearing out of toys. But it is 
certainly desirable, if possible, to make it seem very 
distant while children are young. 

When someone of importance to the child dies, 
the matter is different. Suppose, for example, the 
child loses a brother. The parents are unhappy, and 
although they may not wish the child to know how 
pnhappy they arc, it is right and necessary that he 
should perceive something of what they suffer. Natural 
affection is of very great importance, and the child 
should feel that his elders feel it. Moreover, if, by 
superhuman efforts, they conceal their sorrow from 
the child, he may think: “They wouldn’t mind if 
I died.” Such a thought might start all kinds of 
morbid developments. Therefore, although the shock 
of such an occurrence is harmful when it occurs 
during late childhood (in early childhood it will 
not be felt much), yet, if it occurs, we must not 
minimize it too much. The subject must be neither 
avoided nor dwelt upon; what is possible, without 
any too obvious intention, must be done to create 
fresh interests, and above all fresh affections. I think 
that very intense affection for some one individual, 
in a child, is not infrequently a mark of something 
amiss. Such affection may arise towards one parent 

216 



STOICISM AND MENTAL HEALTH 

il the other parent is unkind, or towards a teacher 
if both parents arc unkind. It is generally a product 
of fear: the object of affection is the only person 
who gives a sense of safety. Affection of this kind, 
in childhood, is not wholesome. V/here it exists 
tnc death of the person loved may shatter the child’s 
life. Even if all seems well outwardly, every subse- 
quent love will be ^llcd with terror. Husband (or 
wife) and children will be plagued by undue solici- 
tude, and will be thought heartless when they ace 
merely living their own lives. A parent ought not, 
therefore, to feel pleasgd at being the ol)j'"ct of this 
kind of affection. If the child has a generally friendly 
environment and is happy, he will, without much 
trouble, get over the pain of any .)ne loss that may 
happen to him. The impulse to life and hoj)c ought 
to be suiTicient, provided the normal opportunities 
for growth and happiness exist. 

During adolescence, however, there is need of 
something more positive in the way of an attitude 
towards death, if adult life is t- be satisfactory. 
The adult should think little about death, either 
his own or that of people whom he loves, not because 
he dcliljcrately turns his thoughts to other things, 
for that is a useless exercise which nc'.cr really 
succeeds, but because of the multiplicity of his 
interests and activities. When he does think of 
death, it is best to think with a certain stoicism, 
deliberately and calmly, not attempting to mini- 


217 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

mizc its importance, but feeling a certain pride in 
rising above it. The principle is the same as in the 
case of any other terror: icsolute contemplation of 
the terrifying object is the only possible treatment. 
One must say to oneself: “Well, yes, that might 
happen, but what of it?” People achieve this in 
such a case as death in battle, because they are 
then firmly persuaded of the importance of the 
cause to which they have given their life, or the 
life of someone dear to them. Something of this 
way of fet ling is dcsiral)lc at all times. At all times, 
a man should feel that therq, are matters of impor- 
tance for which he lives, and that his death, or the 
death of wife or child, docs not put an end to all 
that interests him in the world. If this attitude is 
to be genuine and profound in adult life, it is neces- 
sary that, in adolescence, a youth should be fin d 
with generous enthusiasms, and that he should build 
his life and career about them. Adolescence is the 
period of generosity, and it should be utilized for 
the formation of generous habits. This can be 
achieved by the influence of the father or of the 
teacher. In a better community, the mother would 
often be the one to do it, but as a rule, at present, 
the lives of women are such as to make their out- 
look too personal and not sufficiently intellectual 
for what I have in mind. For the same reason, 
adolescents (female as well as male) ought, as a 
lulc, to have men among their teachers, until a 
218 



STOICISM AND MENTAL HEALTH 

new generation of women has grown up which is 
more impel sonal in its inteIe^its. 

The place of stoicism in life has, perhaps, been 
somewhat underestimated in recent times, particu- 
larly by progressive educationists. When misfortune 
threatens, there are two ways of dealing with the 
situation : we may try to avoid the misibrtune, or 
we may decide tha< we will meet it with fortitude. 
The former method is admirable where it is avail- 
able without cowardice; but the latter is necessary, 
sooner or later, for anyone who is not ])n'parcd to 
be the slave offear. Tliis atnuui* constitutes stoicism. 
The great difficulty, for an educator, is that the 
instilling of stoicism in the young affords an outlet 
far sadism. In the past, ideas of discipline were so 
fierce that education became a channel foi impulses 
of cruelty. Is it possible to give the nece ssary mini- 
nium of disripline without dcveloj:)ing a pleasure 
in making the child sutler? Old-lashioncd people 
will, of course, deny that they feci any such pleasure. 
Everyone knows the story of the joy whose father, 
while administering the cane, said: “My boy, this 
hurts me more than it does you” ; to which the 
boy replied : “Then, father, will you let me do it to 
you instead?'’ Samuel Butler, in Th^i Way j all Flesh, 
has depicU'd tlie sadi^tic pleasures of stern parents in 
a way whic^ is convincing to any s.uiient of modern 
psychology. What, then, are we to do af)out it? 

The fear of death is onlv one of many that are 


219 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

best dealt with by stoicism. There is the fear of 
povert}, the fear of physical pain, the fear of child- 
birth which is common among well-to-do women. 
All such fears arc weakening and more or less con- 
temptible. But if we take the line that people ought 
not to mind such things, we shall tend also to take 
the line that nothing need be done to mitigate evils. 
For a long time, it was thought that women ought 
not to have anaesthetics in childbirth; in Japan, 
this opinion persists to the present day. Male doctors 
held that anaesthetics would be harmful ; there was 
no reason for this view, which was doubtless due 
to unconscious sadism. But the more the pains of 
childbirth have been mitigated, the less willing rich 
women have become to endure them : their courage 
has diminished faster than the need of it. Evidently 
there must be a balance. It is impossible to make 
the 'whcile of life soft and pleasant, and therefore 
human beings must be capable of an attitude suit- 
able to the unpleasant portions; but we must try 
to bring this about with as little encouragement to 
cruelty as possible. 

Whoever has to deal with young children soon 
learns that too much sympathy is a mistake. Too 
little sympathy is, of course, a worse mistake, but 
in this, as in everything else, each extreme is bad. 
A child that invariably i^^ccivcs sympathy will con- 
tinue to cry over cver\ tiny mishap; the ordinary 
self-control of the average adult is only achieved 


220 



STOICISM AND MENTAL HEALTH 

through knowledge that no sympathy will be wor. 
by making a fuss. Children readily understand that 
an adult who is somedmes a little stern is best for 
them; their insdnet tells them w^hether they are 
loved or not, and from those whom they feel to 
be cifiectionate they will put up with whatever 
sti irtiKiij results from genuine desire for theii proper 
development. Thus In theory the solution is simple: 
let educators be inspired by wise love, and they 
wall do the right thing. In fact, however, the matter 
is more complicated, hadgue, vexation, worry, 
im})adcncc, l<csct the.paioni oi teacher, and it 
clangdous to have an educational theory which 
allows the adult to vent th('S(‘ feelings upon the 
child for the sake of his uldmaic welfare. Never- 
theless, if the theory is true, it must be accepted, 
and the dangers must be brought before the con- 
sciousness of the parent or teacher, so that every- 
thing possible may be done to guard against them. 

We can now sum up the conclusions suggested 
by the foregoing discussion. In re. ird to the painful 
hazards ol‘ life, knowledge of them, on tho part of 
children, should be neither avoided nor obtruded; 
it should come when circumstances make it un- 
avoidable. Painful things, when they have to be 
mentioned, should be treated truthfully and un- 
emotionally, except when a dea^'i occurs in the 
family, in which case it would be unnatural to 
conceal sorrow. The adults should display in their 


221 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

own conduct a certain gay courage, which the 
young will unconsciously acquire from their example. 
In adolescence, large impersonal interests should 
be set before the young, and education should be 
so conducted as to give them the idea (by sugges- 
tion, not by explicit exhortation) of living for pur- 
poses outside themselves. They should be taught to 
endure misfortune, when it comes, by remembering 
that there are still things to live tor ; but they should 
not brood on possible misfortunes, even for the 
purpose of being prepared to meet them. Those 
whose business it is to deal with the young must 
keep a close watch upon themselves to see that they 
do not derive a sadistic pleasure from the necessary 
element of discipline in education ; the motive for dis- 
cipline must always be the development of character 
or intelligence. For the intellect, also, requires disci- 
pline, without which ac curacy will never be achieved. 
But the discipline of the intellect is a different 
topic, and lies outside the scope of this essay. 

I have only one more word to say, and that is, 
that discipline is best when it springs from an inner 
impulse. In order that this may be possible, it is 
necessary that the child or adolescent should feel 
the ambition to achieve something difficult, and 
should be willing to make efforts to that end. Such 
ambition is usually suggested by somb person in 
the environment ; thus even self-discipline depends, 
in the end, upon an educational stimulus, 
aas 



XIV 


ON COMETS 

If I w'^re a comet, 1 slioukl consider the men of 
our present age a degenerate breed. 

In former times, the rcspc( t for comets was 
universal and profound. One of tliem foreshadowed 
the death ol' Caesar; another was regarded vis 
inLlicating the approaching death of tlie Emperor* 
Vespasian. He himseU' was a sirong-miodeci manf 
and maintained that the comet must have some 
other significance, since it was hairy and he was 
bald; but tliere were few who slicired this extreme 
of rationalism. The Venerable Bede said that 
“comets portend revolutions of kingdoms, pesti- 
lence, war, winds, or heat.’' John Knox regarded 
comets as e\ idcnces of divine anger, and other 
Scottish Protestants thought them “a warning to 
the King to extirpate the Papists 

America, and espe^ iall> New England, came in 
for a due share of cc metary attention In 1652 a 
co/net api^cared just at the moment when the 
eminent Mr. Cotton fell ill, and disapj)eared at his 
death. Onl/ ten years later, the ‘rked inhabitants* 
of Boston were warned by a new oinct to abstmn 
from “voluptuousness and abuse of the good creatures 
of God by licentiousness in drinking and fashions in 


223 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

apparel.” Increase Mather, the eminent divine, con- 
sidered that comets and eclipses had portended the 
deaths of Presidents of Har\^ard and Colonial 
Governors, and instructed his flock to pray to the 
Lord that he would not ^‘take away stars and send 
comets to succeed them.” 

All this superstition was gradually dispelled by 
Halley’s discovery that one comet, at least, went 
round the sun in an orderly ellipse, just like a 
sensible planet, and by Newton’s proof lliat cornels 
obey the law of gravitatiem. For some time, Pro 
lessors in the more old-fashioned universities were 
forbidden to mention these discoveries, but in the 
long run the truth could not be concealed. 

In our day. it is difficult to imagine a world in 
which everybody, high and low, educated and 
uneducated, was preoccupied with comets, and 
filled with terror whenever one appeared. Most of 
us have never seen a comet. I have seen two, but 
they were far less impressive than I had expected 
them to be. The cause of the change in our attitude 
is not merely rationalism, but artificial lighting. In 
the streets of a modern city the night sky is invisible ; 
in rural districts, we move in cars with bright head- 
lights. We have blotted out the heavens, and only 
a few scientists remain aware of stars and planets, 
meteorites and comets. The world of ohr daily life 
is more man-made than at any previous epoch. In 
this there is loss as well as gain : Man, in the security 
224 



ON COMETS 


of his dominion, is becoming trivial, arrogant, and 
a little mad. But I do not think a comet would 
now produce the wholesome moral effect which it 
produced in Boston in 1662; a stronger medicine 
would now be needed. 


225 



XV 


WHAT IS THE SOULpi 

One of the most painful circumslanrcs of recent 
advances in science is that each one of them makes 
us know less than we thouj:j^ht we did. Wlien I was 
young we all knew, or thought we knew, that a 
man consists of a soul and a body; that the body 
is in time and space, but the soul is in tliiie only. 
Whether the soul survives death was a mailer as 
to which opinions mjght differ, but that tlicre is a 
soul was thought to be indubitable. As for the body, 
the plain man of course considered its (existence 
self-evident, and so did the man of science, but the 
philosopher was apt to analyse it away after one 
fashion or another, reducing it usually to ideas in 
the mind of the man who had the body and any- 
body else who happened to notice him. The philo- 
sopher, however, was not taken seriously, and 
science remained comfortably materialistic, even in 
the hands of quite orthodox scicaitists. 

Nowadays these line old simplicities arc lost ; 
physicists assure us that there is no such thing as 
matter, and psychologists assure us that there is no 
such thing as mind. This is an unprecedented 
occurrence. Who ever heard of a cobbler saying 


226 



WHAT IS THE SOUL? 

that there was no such thing as boots, or a tailor 
maintaining that all men are really naked? Yet 
that would have been no^odder than what physicists 
and certain psychologists have been doing. To begin 
with the latter, some of them attempt to reduce 
everything that seems to be mental activity to an 
activity of the body. There are, however, various 
dinuulties in the way of reducing mental activity 
to physical activity. I do not think we can yet say 
with any assurance whether these difficulties are or 
are not insuperable. What wc can say, on the bases 
of physics iiself, is theft what we have hitherto called 
our body is really an elaborate scientific construc- 
tion not corresponding to any physical reality. 
The modern would-be materialist thus finds him- 
self in a curious position, for, while he may with a 
certain degree of success reduce the activities of the 
mind to those of the bo ^y, he cannot explain •away 
the fact that the body itself is merely a convenient 
concept invented by the mind. We find ourselves 
thus going round and round in a circle: mind is 
an emanation of body, and body is an invention of 
mind. Evidently this cannot be quite right, and 
wc have to look for something that is neither mind 
nor body, out of which both can spring 

Let us begin with the body. The plain man thinks 
that material objects must certainly exist, since they 
are evident to the senses. Whatever else may be 
doubted, it is certain that any thinfg you can bump into 

227 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

must be real; this is the plain man^s metaphysic. 
This is all very well, but the physicist comes along 
and shows that you never bump into anything: 
even when you run your head against a stone wall, 
you do not really touch it. When you think you 
touch a thing, there are certain electrons and 
protons, forming part of your body, which are 
attracted and repelled by certain electrons and 
protons in the thing you think you are touching, 
but there is no actual contact. The electrons and 
photons in your body, becoming agitated by near- 
ness to the efther electrons and protons, are disturbed, 
and transmit a disturbance along your nerves to 
the brain; the effect in the brain is what is neces- 
sary to your sensation of contact, and by suitable 
experiments this sensation can be made quite 
decepth^e. The electrons and protons themselves, 
howeVer, are only a crude first approximation, a 
way of collecting into a bundle either trains of 
waves or the statistical probabilities of various 
different kinds of events. Thus matter has become 
altogether too ghostly to be used as an adequate 
stick with which to beat the mind. Matter in motion, 
which used to seem so unquestionable, turns out to 
hr a concept quite inadequate for the needs of 
physics. 

Ne\ertheleis modern science gives no indication 
whatever of the existence of the soul or mind aS an 
entity; indeed the reasons for disibelieving in it are 

228 



WHAT IS THE SOUL? 

very much the same kindhas the reasons for dis- 
believing in matter. Mindl and matter were some- 
thing like the lion and th^ unicorn fighting for the 
crown; the end of the battle is not the victory of 
one or the other, but the discovery that both are 
only heraldic inventions. The world consists of 
events, not of things that endure for a long time 
and have changing properties. Events can be col- 
lected into groups by their causal relations. If the 
causal relations are of one sort, the resulting group 
of events may be called a physical object, and if, 
the causal relations are*of another sort, the resulting 
group may be called a mind. Any event that occurs 
inside a man's head will belong to groups of both 
kinds ; considered as belonging to a group of one 
kind, it is a eonstiluent of his brain, and considered 
as belonging to a group of the other kind, it is a 
constituent of his mind. 

Tlius both mind and matter are merely convenient 
ways of organizing events. There can be no reason 
for supposing that either a piece of mind or a piece 
of matter is immortal. The sun is supposed to be 
losing matter at the rate of millions of tons a minute, 
The most essential characteristic of mind is meinor 
and there is no reason whatever to suppose tn 
memory associated with a given person 
that person’s* death. Indeed there is 
to think the opposite, for incinon 
nected with a certain kind ol hr 



IN PRAISE OF IDLENESS 

since this structure decays at deatl^, there 4s cvciy 
reason to suppo e than memory also must ccase^ 
Although metaphysical materialism cannot be con- 
sidered true, yct emotionally the World is pretty 
much the same as it would be if the maccria ’^ts 
were m the right. I think the opponents of material- 
ism have always been actuated by two main desires ; 
)hc first to prove that the mind is immortal, and 
the second to prove that the ultimate power in the 
universe is mental rather than physical. In both 
these respects, I think the materialists were in the 
right. Oui desires, it is true, have considerable pow^ r 
on the earth’s surface; the grea er part of the land 
on this planet has a quite different aspec t from that 
which it w^ould have if men had not utilized it to 
extract food and wealth. But our p'-ftwer is very 
strictly limited. Wc cannot at present do anything 
whatever to the sun or moon or even to the interior 
of the earth, and there is not the faintest reason to 
suppose that w^liat happens in regions to which our 
power docs not extend has any mental causes. That 
is to say, to put the matter in a nutshell, there is 
no reason to think that except on the earth’s surface 
\ thing happens because somebody wishes it» to 
" 1 . And since our power on the earth’s surface 
V dependent upon the supplj of energy 
^rlh derives from the sun? wc are neces- 
upon ihe sun, and could hardly 
wishes if the sun grew cold. It is